Writer’s Wednesday: Two Adjectives Are Not Better Than One

A quick grammar lesson from fourth grade: Adjectives describe nouns.*

  • They can be descriptive adjectives. This means, as implied, that they add detail or description to the noun, such as red, sweet, indiscriminate, terrifying
  • There are limiting adjectives, which specify or limit the noun. These are words such as two, every, this, some.

Some writers mistakenly treat descriptive writing like a sub sandwich. They think piling lots and lots of adjectives into a sentence– like loading up with various condiments or veggies– automatically makes the writing better. Right?

Wrong. As a writer you should strive to streamline your writing. The more adjectives (or modifiers of any kind) in a sentence, the more cluttered its meaning will be and the less of an impact those words will have.

Which brings me to Lesson #6: Most of the time, two adjectives  are NOT better than one. By all means, choose the stronger of the two and ditch the other.

One of the two adjectives will be the stronger, thus the better choice. The other oftentimes will be a tired redundancy and is already assumed elsewhere in the sentence’s meaning.

To decide which should go, leave one adjective in at a time and read each version aloud.  One will inevitably leap off the page as the keeper.

As always, there is an exception to this writing suggestion: Sometimes two adjectives will be necessary to flesh out the author’s exact meaning.

However, in everyday description, the most likely rule of thumb will be “Two adjectives are NOT better than one.”

Professional editors sometimes scribble in a margin to let the writer know he/she has elimination work to do: ” 1 + 1 = 1/2.” Meaning that 2 adjectives (or modifiers or beats, whatever the offending agent is)  halve the prose’s impact.

Try it yourself. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives in the sentences below. (AND comment below with your re-written versions):

 

1) The funny, red-wigged  clown lowered his handful of squishy, sweet whipped cream onto the metal foldaway chair, where, moments later, the unsuspecting bald man sat.

2) Playing with a wooly heathered piece of yarn, the lively tiger-striped kitten batted the strand until he was played out and quiet.

 

Till next week. . . . happy writing!

Lookin’ up,

 

 

*(For our purposes today, articles such as a, an, the  are not included in the category of adjectives because of their “invisible” properties.)

 

 

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