Use “Very” Sparingly

Only when necessary.

A quick-and-easy way to tighten our writing and make it flow more smoothly is to cut out the “flab.” Adjectives and adverbs* tend to bloat our writing, weighing it down with unneeded verbiage. Using fewer of them will almost always streamline writing and make it more interesting to read.

One flab word that often adds little to descriptive writing is the adverb very. We use very as an intensifier to give more strength to a verb or adjective. For example, “We got up very early this morning to see the sunrise. It was very beautiful.” Now read the same sentences without the verys: “We got up early this morning to see the sunrise. It was beautiful.” Has anything been lost? Not that I can tell.

My point is not that we should never use very to add strength to our writing, but to be aware of the verys and use fewer of them. Will “the woman ran very fast” tell us more than “the woman ran fast”? Very is a vague, subjective word that gives the reader almost no information. Instead of telling, add strength by showing the reader how fast she ran: “The woman sprinted down the field like a cheetah.”

And don’t forget this handy piece of advice attributed to Mark Twain:

Write Damn Instead of Very

*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.


© 2016 by Dean Christensen.

Welcome to The Dean’s English

Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.

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