Writing Tips: Don’t Use Two Adjectives Where One Will Do


What’s wrong with the following sentences:

The gorgeous, beautiful flower excited my senses.

I ran my finger over the marred and scratched vinyl album.

The dirty, filthy basement was where I kept my junk.

Our tired, exhausted child fell asleep in the back of the car.

In each of the above sentences, two adjectives are used where one would have been adequate. Since these adjectives mean basically the same thing (marred/marked; dirty/filthy/ tired/exhausted), it’s better to choose just one instead of clogging up the sentences with both.

Better yet would be to use words that have different meanings; instead of “gorgeous, beautiful”, you could write “gorgeous scarlet”; instead of “marred and marked”, you could say “marred and bent”. “Dirty, filthy” could be “dark and filthy”; “tired, exhausted” might turn into “tired, sticky”.

When you’re writing, try to use one very vivid adjective to describe a person, place or thing. If you do include two, make sure they are different enough in meaning to warrant using both.

Photo: ForestWander

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

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