Adjectives are like paint brushes, coloring, clarifying, or quantifying nouns and pronouns. In the hand of an unskilled artist, they can leave a mess. Mark Twain said, “If you see an adjective, kill it,” probably because, as a general rule, most adjectives say either too much or too little. When you use them, be sure the color is perfect.
- Make the Picture Clear
The indefinite adjectives such as many, short, and large tell something about a noun without being exact in their descriptions. As you write, the word describes what you have in mind, but it’s not specific enough for readers to create the same picture. For example: how long is a long rope? You know it’s six feet, but as far as readers know, it could be two feet, twenty feet, or fifty. To be clear, avoid the indefinite adjective and use a precise modifier.
- Bill used a long twelve-foot rope to tether the cars’ bumpers.
- Many Three friends visited Sally in the hospital. (Readers might imagine three, six, maybe more.)
- By late afternoon, they came to a very small river trickling creek.
- Some large Seven wolves as big as grizzly bears surrounded the camp. (How many? How big? Without a comparison, readers can’t distinguish between, large, very large, and gargantuan.)
- It was a beautiful sunny, cool day.
- Slash Redundant Modifiers
An adjective that carries the same or nearly the same meaning weakens the expression.
- The sum total was 147.
- As an end a result, Henry dropped the class.
- William used the exact same words in his speech.
- Avoid Adjectives that State the Obvious
After finishing your first draft, do a word search for all and some. You may want to some, and maybe all of them.
All the The boys gathered in a circle.
On the way home, Paul had to stop and buy some drinks for the party.
- An Adjective Modifying an Adjective Requires a Hyphen.
Two adjectives can independently modify one noun, but a hyphen is needed to group adjectives so they collectively modify the noun. Test the need for a hyphen by eliminating the second adjective. If the sentence is still true, then the words independently modify the noun. No hyphen is needed.
- Four years old Four-year-old Johnny could recite the alphabet forward and backward.
- The city council approved a public housing public-housing project. (Without the hyphen, the city approved a housing product open to public scrutiny.)
- The orange juice orange-juice buyer negotiated a below market below-market price. (Without the hyphen, the juice buyer is orange.)