Stop Using the Word ‘Very’ Immediately

Using the word 'very'Perhaps this is a controversial view, but I have a dedicated aversion to the word very.

Mark Twain recommended that we, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

This quote made me laugh until I read some of my own work with this in mind and then I realized what a great suggestion it truly was. It’s rather mind boggling, even as a self-professed professional writer, how many times I use the word very.

My feelings towards this word was captured well by N.H. Kleinbaum in Dead Poets Society:

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

When we write we are trying to woo women (and men) through our words. We want them to like the stories we’ve written. And using the word ‘very’ is just downright lazy and needs to (mostly) be stricken from your vocabulary. Speaking of vocabulary, it’s a great time to enhance yours so that you will have words that will convey what you mean without using that oft dreaded word.

Here is a list of words (on the left) that we tend to put the word very in front of. Instead, the word on the right is another powerful way to say what you mean without the lackadaisical word very in it. If you’d like some other words, check out Word Hippo, it is such a great site and it has a killer thesaurus for a plethora of words.

Don’t write              –       Instead write

Very          afraid                           –          terrified
angry                           –          furious
bad                              –          atrocious
beautiful                      –          exquisite
big                               –          immense
bright                           –          dazzling
capable                        –         accomplished
clean                            –         spotless, immaculate
clever                           –         brilliant
cold                             –          freezing
conventional                –         conservative
dirty                             –          squalid
dry                               –          parched
eager                           –          keen
fast                              –          quick
fierce                           –          ferocious
good                            –          superb
happy                          –          jubilant
hot                               –          scalding
hungry                         –          ravenous
large                            –          colossal
lively                           –          vivacious
loved                           –          adored
neat                             –          immaculate
old                               –          ancient
poor                             –          destitute
pretty                           –          beautiful
quiet                            –          silent
risky                            –          perilous
roomy                          –          spacious
rude                             –          vulgar
serious                         –         solemn
small                            –          tiny
strong                          –          unyielding
stupid                          –          idiotic
tasty                            –          delicious
thin                              –          gaunt
tired                             –          exhausted
ugly                             –          hideous
valuable                       –         precious
weak                            –         feeble
wet                              –          soaked
wicked                        –           villainous
wise                             –          sagacious
worried                        –          anxious

That doesn’t mean you will never again use the word ‘very’ it’s just a reminder to be very sure (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) or better yet, confident that it is necessary.

Until we meet again.