Adverbs and Adjectives: Kill Them Quick

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The Extraneous Vocabulary Assassin

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” wrote Stephen King in the writer’s tome On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Writing with adverbs and adjectives is frowned upon in literary circles because it is the sign of a lazy or uninspired writer. However, as a blog writer for hire, sometimes these parts of speech find a home in your content for good reason. The right adverbs and adjectives have their place in even the finest writing—it’s the wrong ones you have to look out for!


Adjectives give nouns description. However, like a garish granny from one of those Red Hat clubs who insists on wearing the gaudiest red hat she can find, many adjectives just cause distraction. Instead of being told to envision a beach-side resort, shopping mall or newborn baby, a reader wants to be shown. For example, describing a baby as a pretty little cherub offers nothing, except two of the most overused adjectives in writing.

Other adjectives to omit from your vocabulary for lack of effect include amazingmanyinterestingfunny and kind. Instead of using these words as a quick fix for describing something or someone, go for the gold and describe the character, place or object in a way that elicits these descriptions.

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Adverbs tag along beside verbs offering their advice when describing action. Unfortunately these words can be seen as the tag-alongs they are, if they are not used appropriately. In your writing, look for any word that ends with -ly and then consider cutting them out. If they include the words totallyreallyactuallyprobablysuddenly or very—kill them quickly. Other overused adverbs that do not use the -ly ending include just, so, perfect, and kind of.

A Book Worth of Words

Keep your writing fresh by investing in more books than just a college level thesaurus. Here is a list of great reads that should be sitting on the shelf of your writing desk.

  • Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
  • The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant
  • The Describer’s Dictionary by David Grambs

The 2004 edition of the Writer’s Thesaurus provides list after list of word banks, including figure skating terms, oaths and curses, and the 88 constellations. Additionally, you receive words of thought from contributing editors that include authors David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith. The Dictionary of Symbols offers detailed descriptions of words and their symbolic meanings. Curious to know what a kiss or the color black mean in other eras and countries? You’ll find a wealth of information in this descriptive text. As for The Describer’s Dictionary, you will discover descriptive words beyond the basics, such as 13 different words for bright or vivid red including lobster red, carmine, cinnabar and scarlet.


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