10 Authors Against Adjectives


Long considered the scourge of good writing, the adjective recently got another public flogging by Alexander McCall Smith in this Wall Street Journal article. Sure, most college students are guilty of inserting redundant, Thesaurus-aided descriptions to reach an essay’s minimum word count, but everyone from Voltaire to Steven King has agreed upon the danger of overusing this seductive part of speech. Although we’re not suggesting that linguistic minimalism should be the gold standard, it’s well-worth heeding the anti-adjective advice of these literary greats.

“Adjectives are frequently the greatest enemy of the substantive.” – Voltaire

“[I was taught] to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.” – Ernest Hemingway

“The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.” – Clifton Paul Fadiman

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” – Mark Twain

“The road to hell is paved with adjectives.” – Stephen King

“[The adjective] is the one part of speech first seized upon and worked to death by novices and inferior writers.” – J.I. Rodale

“Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.” – Ezra Pound

“The adjective has not been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” – E.B. White

“[Whoever writes in English] is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective.” – George Orwell

“Most adjectives are also unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.” – William Zissner