Throwback Thursday: Authors, Editors, and Readers Alike All Hate the Word Very, a Lot.

I’m guilty of using the word very. It’s probably appeared in more than one of my blog posts and academic papers. I have one professor, though, that always points it out in my writing and tells me to take it out. He says it’s useless. He says it adds nothing to further my point. He says it’s lazy writing.

He’s right, and there are others that agree with him.

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. It also won’t do in your essays.
N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

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.
Mark Twain

Well, you could take Mark Twain’s advise, but I feel like damn wouldn’t be deleted as often by publishers now as it was when Mark Twain uttered those words sometime before 1910 when he died. There are other ways of avoiding the word very.

Check to see if the word very is really necessary. If it’s in a bit of dialog and your character uses it a lot, then you can probably keep it because it’s a signature characteristic. But if you find you’re using it a lot outside of dialog to describe setting or feelings to show more intensity, try finding a word that just means what you’re talking about in a more intense way. That might have been confusing, let me give you an example.

Bad: The sky sparkled a very dark blue.
Good: The sky sparkled with the depth of a sapphire.

Sapphire is a very dark blue so this example works to illustrate the same color only in a more poetic way, and more importantly, without using the word very.

Another way very is used is to draw attention a point. He wasn’t mad, he was VERY mad. He wasn’t sad, he was VERY sad. But there are, again, words in the English language that mean very mad (livid) and very sad (depressed) so why not use those words instead?

Bad: The girl’s very bad nature kept her from socializing.
Good: The girl’s morose nature kept her from socializing.

Simply switching “very bad” to “morose” not only raises the diction of this sentence while eliminating very, but also paints a more vivid picture of the girl’s attitude than just saying it was “very bad.”

So whether you are using very for intensity or emphasis, you can skip it. Simply replacing the word very with damn would certainly be entertaining (and a good way of seeing how often you use it in your own work when you self edit), but expanding the vocabulary of your piece and finding those words that relay intensity and emphasis really improve your writing and, most certainly, cannot be called lazy writing.

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