Home Page Button Syllabus / Policies Button Composition Button Grammar Button Rhetoric Button Rhetoric Button Literature button poetry button classical button medieval button Renaissance Button Vocabulary Button

Stacked Adjectives and Adverbs

(A Type of Wordiness)

I. Good writers use adjectives and adverbs for vivid description. Excellent writers use vivid nouns and verbs and thus avoid "stacking" the sentence with extra words. These excellent writers pick their words so judiciously they can be descriptive and concise at the same time.

Look for places where there are multiple adjectives or adverbs stacked together. When you have located such passages, chop out all the unnecessary adjectives, leaving only the one adjective or adverb that seems to be the best choice. Or, better yet, pick a new, single noun or verb! Pick a word that is so powerful and so precise it doesn't even need a adjective or adverb to carry the same meaning. Take a look at the examples below.

Stacked Adjectives and Adverbs: Making a strange high-pitched noise, the small figure moved very awkwardly away from the dead body of his master.

Good Sentence: Squealing, the dwarf stumbled from his master's corpse.

Squealing is not only shorter than making a strange-high-pitched noise, it is more precise. Likewise, corpse conveys the same meaning as dead body with fewer words. Stumbled is a more vivid verb than moved, even with the modifiers like very awkwardly. Do you see the difference?

Likewise, take a look at the bad and good example below:

Bad Example: Great love ate away completely at Edgar's heart, as he looked very longingly into the really blue eyes of Susan for a moment that seemed like a very long time.

Good Example: Love consumed his heart as Edgar gazed into Susan's cerulean eyes for an endless moment.

The soul of a sentence lies in powerful verbs and concrete nouns. Abstract intensifiers like very, just, really, and great take up space and prevent readers from touching the beauty of your prose. To achieve concision, delete these unnecessary words. Recall Mark Twain's motto: "When in doubt, strike it out!" Often these weak intensifiers indicate that the author realized his first word choice wasn't strong enough, and the author tried to correct that weakness by adding new words without replacing the old ones. Don't succumb to that temptation. Sometimes short-and-to-the-point leaves a deeper impression than long-and-overdeveloped can. Less is more!

Your Turn: Fix the following sentences by making them more concise. Eliminate stacked adverbs or adjectives if you can find a vivid verb or noun to replace them.

1. That was a very great movie. The guy who acted in it made me feel tears running down my face.

2. He ran really quickly across the grass.

3. Even though he is just a young freshman with little experience, he spoke his words with a great deal of eloquence.

4. The villainous individual put forth his hand so it stretched out toward the unwilling girl of chaste character.

5. From the events that have happened in past history, scholars know that such an endeavor is in all probability going to fail.



To Home Page
To Top of This Page
Contact Doctor Wheeler
University Webpage
Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.