Adjectives can be sexy, ask a noun


An adjective’s job is to modify a noun, giving the reader a visual. First of all, where you place the adjective in the sentence is crucial. Writers must be careful, because a misplaced adjective and be confusing, misleading, or even disastrous. Example: A hot cup of coffee is different from a cup of hot coffee (the former implying that only the cup is hot, and the latter implying that the coffee is hot).

The right adjective or adjectival phrase can invite your readers to literally taste, feel, touch, and smell the noun it travels with. It announces the noun that follows it and, when well thought out by the writer, it brings your sentence to life—with a bang!

Example: The submissive students became a rowdy mob when they saw the food.

In this sentence, the words submissive and rowdy illustrate strongly that there was no holding back the normally submissive students when they saw the food. They must have been practically starving.

Constance Hale, in Sin and Syntax, describes the alchemy of adjectives as “boiling down an excess of ideas to the essence of a thing, with words that surprise.” Don’t just describe with adjectives, show your reader exactly what you mean. Choose your adjectives with care by exploring the passion that the noun elicits from you. Render your nouns using clever strategies like alliteration, metaphors, similes, parallel phrasing, brief lyrical phrases, and rhyme and rhythm (poetry). The color red of something can be better described using cherry, bleeding, vermillion, ruby, auburn, cardinal, scarlet, wine, or blood orange (fruit).

To inspire you, here are some more delicious adjectives that bring their nouns to life:

  • aphrodisiac potion of music
  • cobalt and sapphire bolts of fabric
  • lithe, nimble fingers
  • pungent, pervasive smell of sardines
  • bashful yet audacious singer

So, grab your imagination, dictionary, and thesaurus and be selective and precise in your choices of adjectives; seek surprise and wonder for your readers. Use a moderate number of penetrating descriptors to adorn the plainest of nouns with character and leave readers with a lasting impression of your story.


About The dutty is "the ground," the foundation, the earth--just like words are part of the foundation on which I build my life.

Reason for being: To tell stories and help writers and others with a message to put their best word forward.
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