Words to Avoid

© 2008 Daniel Arenson

In the article Less is More, I wrote that unnecessary words--pleonasms--should be omitted from sentences. Today I’d like to describe specific types of words to avoid.


While adjectives are often necessary, they are best avoided when possible. When you use the right verbs and nouns, adjectives becomes pleonasms -- words that can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Consider, for example: “Trog polished his sword to a sparkling, bright gleam.” We could remove the adjectives “sparkling” and “bright” and simply write, “Trog polished his sword to a gleam.”

Often, adjectives can be removed by using the proper verb or noun. Consider the sentence, “Trog moved at a quick pace down the narrow street.” We could remove the adjectives “quick” and “narrow” and write, “Trog hurried down the alley.”

Adjectives are sometimes necessary. Whenever possible, I avoid them.


As with adjectives, adverbs are also best avoided when possible. Adverbs can be avoided by choosing a stronger verb. Instead of “said quietly”, write “whispered”. Instead of “ate ravenously”, write “devoured”.

Replacements for Said

I often find myself replacing “said” with verbs such as “growled”, “opined”, “shouted”, etc. I try to avoid this as much as possible. When used too much, these verbs not only become annoying, they interfere with our interpretation of the dialogue.

Consider the following bit of dialogue:

“I’m tired,” Alice complained.

“So go to bed,” Fred suggested.

“But I’m hungry!” Alice whined.

“So eat something,” Fred grumbled.

“But I don’t have any food,” Alice lamented.

I’ve seen some writers avoid “said” as if trying to impress us with their array of synonyms. These days, “said” is the preferred verb to use in dialogue; most editors will reject a manuscript which uses too many “said” alternatives. It’s almost always better to use “said”, a neutral verb, and let the dialogue itself convey the tone.

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