Jordan Ogren

July 20, 2021

Kill your adjectives.

I was reading an advertisement for an apartment and came across this:

"Immaculately clean apartment."

Is there a difference between immaculately clean and clean?

Or, by definition, does clean mean the same thing as immaculately clean?

Here's an example using an adverb:

"He loudly slammed the door after his mom canceled his Xbox live membership."

Can you quietly slam a door?

William Zinsser in On Writing Well says this about adjectives and adverbs:

"Most adjectives are unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."

If the noun contains the concept, leave it as. 

If you're writing about dirt, it does not need to be brownish dirt. We understand that most dirt is brown.

Now, if you're on Mars, noting the orange dirt makes sense. The adjective "orange" is doing a job that the noun "dirt" cannot do by itself.

Making this mistake sadly becomes a habit for many writers (as it was for me). Unfortunately, they fall into the habit trap and fail even to realize their mistake.

Not every oak needs to be gnarled. Not every sky needs to be blue.

Now, if the sky is grey, that's worth noting.

The lesson/reminder: "The adjective that exists solely as decoration is a self-indulgence for the writer and a burden for the reader." — William Zinsser.

Are you using your adjectives economically?

🧠 // JO