Watch Out for Superfluous Adjectives

A little goes a long way when it comes to adjectives. And you can have too much of a good thing sometimes (even—dare I say it? —chocolate).

While adjectives help your readers get a clearer picture of the person or thing you want them to see, not every adjective is essential. Eliminating one may improve a sentence.

Here’s an example:

  • The expedition climbed the high mountain.

No need for that adjective in front of mountain; we know mountains are high.

  • Three-year-old Davis cheered for the brave superhero.

Bravery is one of the characteristics that makes a superhero a superhero. Strong nouns don’t need the assistance of an adjective.

How about this:

  • The furry cat chased the small mouse into a dark hole in the ground.

Do those superfluous adjectives make for interesting writing? I think not.

Be on the lookout for redundant adjectives, especially when you have a strong, descriptive noun. Marketers use this ploy to make their product seem more enticing—“more organic, tasty, beautiful, more [fill in the blank].” Beyond the “new and improved” line, see if you can spot empty adjectives that really don’t add anything to what you need to know about a product. Like “garden vegetable” or “natural minerals.”

As I often tell my editing clients: less is more. Taking the time to choose just the right adjective will often preclude the need for a second (or third). Stuffing a lot of words into a manuscript to give it life and make it exciting often gives the opposite effect.

So don’t be superfluous. That word comes from Latin, meaning “to overflow.” We don’t want to flood our readers with adjectives. Just sprinkle them instead, and your sentences won’t drown from weightiness.

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