Words You Can Use Instead Of ‘Very’ To Punch Up Your Writing

Words You Can Use Instead Of ‘Very’ To Punch Up Your Writing

Learning how to write is like learning how to play a musical instrument: Once you learn the basic rules — grammar, spelling and punctuation — and are writing technically correct sentences, there’s a still the whole world of syntax, diction and style to conquer. And this is where writers, like musicians, have opinions: Is it better to write straightforward, no-frills prose, or to weave verbal flights of fancy that illustrate complex, poetic sentiments?

Photo: Nilufer Gadgieva

Or something in between? For me, diction is a big deal — the writers I admire are precise in their word choice — and I appreciate tidy sentences that get to the point. Which is why I was psyched to find this chart suggesting that writers eliminate, as much as possible, “very + adjective” from their prose and choose a more thoughtful substitute:

Now this came across my transom via Reddit, so naturally it has sparked some discussion: For one, who says “very perfect”, anyway? And many of us recall that you can’t modify the word “unique” — either something is unique or it isn’t, so skip the “very” — except that one can argue that some things are more unique than others.

(Like, every grain of sand is unique, but if you came across a teensy-tiny scale model of Michelangelo’s David in a grain of sand, that would be very unique.) Also, sometimes you really do mean “very skinny” and not “skeletal”, a word that obviously has a different connotation than “skinny”. And finally, a lot of these aren’t universal, like the cafeteria might legitimately be deafening but the kids themselves are likely not.

Still, it’s an interesting list to consider, if only to remind the writer that searching for the exact right word, like searching for the exact right note on the guitar, is what makes writing fun and even very pretty. I mean, beautiful.


  • Leaving aside incorrect uses of “very” (“very perfect” etc.) many of the alternatives here don’t mean the same thing as the “very” phrase. “Very pretty” describes someone who is good-looking but falls short of beautiful. One can be “very poor” without being destitute. My grandmother’s taste in hats might be “very old fashioned”, but it’s not archaic. Mindless overuse of hyperbole doesn’t make you a better writer.

  • The biggest issue is that public schools no longer mark incorrect spelling. The current approach looks at “if the word is spelled as it is pronounced” or if the word of spelt as it is pronaunst this would the be acceptable. So unfortunately we will eventually loose the art of writing.

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