According to The Free Dictionary, an adjective is “A word that expresses an attribute of something; the word class that qualifies [describes] nouns.” What does this mean? Instead of writing, “Diane walked down the path and admired the gardens”, you could say, “Diane walked down the winding, flagstone-paved path and admired the lovely beds of flowers that graced the sunken gardens.” Perhaps a bit too flowery, but I’m making a point here.
Some kinds of writing require fewer adjectives. If I’m writing a political article, for example, my last edit would be to cut any unnecessary verbiage and stay with the factual. If I’m creating an essay, a poem or a piece of fiction, that’s where I dip into my large storehouse of adjectives. When I am watching a film or a play, I can see Diane and the gardens, but when I am reading the story, it’s helpful to know what kind of path she is wandering down, to imagine the types of flowers that would be in a sunken garden, as opposed to a wildflower garden. Once the scene is set, it’s easier to imagine Diane in the setting where the next scene will take place.
Adjectives lend color and atmosphere to a story, and the English language is rich with descriptive words. The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 250,000 distinct words. With so many from which to choose, there is no reason to use the same adjectives every time. If you’ve used “beautiful” once and want a substitute, go to Dictionary.com, type in “beautiful” and look down the left side of the page. You will see a list of ‘Synonyms’; click on ‘more’ and you will be given literally dozens of choices. Be sure the one you choose is appropriate. If you’re not sure, look it up! You are in Dictionary.com, and there are, or should be, fewer things more embarrassing to a writer than to use a word that’s just not quite appropriate. Taking time to check can make you look a lot smarter!
In a comment on a recent news story, I saw that the writer, who had obviously meant to use the word ‘juvenile’, unfortunately wrote ‘Juvenal’ instead. (In my own defense I will say that the article was about former VP Dick Cheney, and the commenter was working my last nerve!) My response was, “Juvenal was a Roman poet, active around the end of the 1st Century and the beginning of the 2nd. Cheney is a war criminal. There, hope that sorts it out for you!” Snotty and petty, you say? Yes, but nonetheless extremely satisfying ~ and grammatically correct! And that’s The Last Word In Editing for today!