Cut the Clutter: Nouns and Verbs

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Pexels.com

I own hundreds of draft horses. I keep them in my stables. They’re so strong they can do the work of two, three, or even more…adjectives and adverbs. See, my draft horses are concrete nouns and dynamic action verbs, and my stables are my dictionary and thesaurus. They come whenever I ask them to, and they make my sentences stronger, more visual, and more concise. If I choose them wisely, they’ll always pull their weight.

Let’s look at some examples.

SENTENCE: The little dog ran very fast across the street.

First Revision: The Chihuahua ran very fast across the street.

Things to Notice

  • I capitalized Chihuahua. Why? Because Chihuahua is a geographical region in Mexico.  When dog breeds have a geographical region as part of their breed designation, the breed is capitalized. On the other hand, a breed without a geographical region as part of their designation is not capitalized. An example of this would be border collie.
  • The world is full of little dogs, so the adjective little weakens the sentence. I solved thisissue by using a “drafthorse” noun—the concrete noun Chihuahua. Being this specific creates an image in readers’ minds and cuts the sentence down by one word.
  • Chihuahua, then, pulls the adjective’s weight.
Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

Second Revision: The Chihuahua sprinted across the street.

Things to Notice

  • In the example sentence I used an adverb, very, to modify a general verb, ran.
  • To solve this issue and get rid of that tired old, overused and often unnecessary adverb, I used a strong, dynamic “draft horse” verb—sprinted.

By using strong concrete nouns and dynamic action verbs, then, we can cut the clutter of adjectives and adverbs. But are there times when we need to use these modifiers? Of course, though some writers may disagree. If they can help readers visualize the noun or verb, use them. Just be sure to get rid of those that aren’t needed.  

When to Use Adjectives and Adverbs

A Few Examples

While I drove to Dallas, two black crows flew past my car.

  Here, the adjective isn’t needed because all crows in the United States are black.

  • The black standard poodle darted across the street.

 This adjective is fine because not all standard poodles are black. The adjective helps create a clear image in readers’ minds.

  • She whispered softly to me…

 The adverb softly isn’t needed because all whispers are typically soft.

  • She whispered loudly to me.

 The adverb loudly as used here is fine because whispers are, by definition, soft. So loud isn’t a way people typically whisper. Sometimes, though, people do whisper louder than usual. Thus, the adverb enhances the sound. However, there are also possible synonyms, such as stage whisper or audible whisper. Either of these synonyms would work as well.

When reviewing a manuscript, pay close attention to the adjectives and adverbs. Can they be deleted through the use of stronger nouns and verbs? If you cannot find stronger nouns and verbs to replace them, keep the modifiers. If you can find stronger nouns and verbs to replace them, get rid of the modifiers.  

6 thoughts on “Cut the Clutter: Nouns and Verbs

  1. I also appreciated your article. I have a question that I hope someone can answer. I’ve noticed, mostly in older books, that some authors capitalize words that, as a general rule, shouldn’t be. I see it most often from writers in the UK, but here’s one I found in the 1987 Dean Koontz novel, The Watchers:

    “And Aunt Violet had warned her a thousand times that if a man ever came on to her with sweet talk and smiles, he would only want to lift her up so he could later cast her down from a greater height and hurt her all the Worse.”

    Is this done for emphasis, is it possibly a typo, or something else? And if it was an acceptable writing tool, is it still allowed? I understand sometimes the rules go out the window as a part of a writer’s style, but this one seems rather random.

    Thank you for any advice you may be able to provide!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your question, Amy. I will try to answer it. UK English has a few rules, but not many, that are different from American English. For example, instead of double-quotation marks around dialogue, many UK writers use single quotation marks instead. Koontz, I know, is American. It looks like he capitalized that last word for emphasis, but usually, italics are used for such a purpose. It could also just be part of his literary style. Once we learn the rules of grammar, we can sometimes “play around” with it and experiment, which Koontz could be doing here. I hope this answer has helped.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.