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.
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.