Some “very” good advice

Mark Twain once gave the following advice to writers:

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.

American novelist and columnist Florence King was of the same opinion:

‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.

Whether in writing or speaking, “very” is a good word to avoid. Yes, it has its place when used sparingly. The problem is that many people overuse “very”. It becomes a crutch. Even worse is the use of “really”, which is just a weak way of saying “very”. When you use weak modifiers all the time, your writing or speaking becomes weak.

How can you drop “very” but still emphasize an adjective? Simple; use a better adjective. Jennifer Frost has created an excellent infographic for Grammar Check that lists 147 words that you can use instead of “very”. She has invited me to share it with you.

147 Words to Use Instead of 'Very' (Infographic)


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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5 Responses to Some “very” good advice

  1. Thanks John. A thought-provoking post. And I must say, that’s a very useful list! 😉

    Readers here might also be interested in my own post about avoiding “very”, where you’ll find other pros and cons, and comments on the matter.

  2. Pingback: Strengthen your words – 5 speaking tips you can use today | Remote Possibilities

  3. Excellent point John and not easy to implement. Using that word is almost a habit.

    In Dead Poets Society, John Keating (Robin Williams) says to his students:

    “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 to woo women and laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”

    By the way, that was a terrific movie plenty of wise advice. 🙂

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hola Nacho! Thank you for the comment. I love that movie but had forgotten about the quote. Thank you for the reminder.

      As a word, “very” is fine if it is used moderately. But, as you say, for many it has become a habit. As I have also mentioned to Craig Hadden, I believe that there is a bit more flexibility with “very” when speaking than when writing. I am stricter with the latter.


  4. Julie Zimmer says:

    Instead of very good – an excellent infographic!

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