Why You Must Stop Using the Word "Very" | Between the Lines Editorial

“Very” is one of those words that editors hate seeing. And we get it, writers; we’re guilty of using it when we can’t think of a better way to say something. Wordsmithing is hard and sometimes our brains just run out of power, and that’s exactly why I’ve put together this blog post. Throw it on your bookmarks bar or your writer’s board on Pinterest; it’s going to be worth your while.

A “Very” Short Background

What is “very,” anyway? It’s an adverb, meaning it qualifies an adjective or verb in relation to time, place, circumstance, manner, etc. We don’t like adverbs. Stephen King once said that the “road to hell is paved with adverbs.” That’s some strong language, but it’s a good start for the point I’m about to make.

Adverbs are (usually) lazy, and there’s probably a better word or phrase to use. Words like “very” aren’t effective as they don’t help to paint a clear picture. Here’s an example:

With an adverb: The lion was very hungry.

With the adverb replaced: The lion was ravenous.

If you were to just delete the adverb “very,” you’d have a weak sentence. “The lion was hungry.” So what? That doesn’t tell your reader much of anything. But when you replace “very hungry” with a strong word like “ravenous,” your readers will sense the urgency and potential danger behind that lion’s hunger.

In other words, use your words wisely! Don’t use weak adverbs and phrases when you can use a single, strong phrase to add some punch to your writing.

The Shit List

Now that you know why “very” sucks, it’s time to replace that yucky adverb. Making that small change will up your writing game whether you’re writing blog posts, college papers, or an epic novel. I’ve created a list of 36 “very” phrases to avoid and two to three replacements for each.

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a great place to start. Remember when I mentioned bookmarking the page or saving this post to Pinterest? Now’s your chance!

Original Replacement Original Replacement
very afraid terrified; petrified very hungry  famished; ravenous
very angry furious; enraged; incensed very large  colossal; monumental
very bad atrocious; wicked; savage very old  ancient; ramshackle; elderly
very beautiful exquisite; alluring very poor  destitute; penniless
very big immense; gargantuan very quiet  silent; hushed; tranquil
very bright dazzling; brilliant very risky  perilous; precarious
very capable accomplished; adept very rude  vulgar; crude; obscene
very clean spotless; unpolluted very serious  solemn; somber; grim
very clever brilliant; shrewd; astute very small  tiny; compact; minuscule
very cold freezing; frigid very strong  unyielding; vigorous; potent
very dirty squalid; grubby; soiled very stupid  idiotic; dense; vacuous
very dry parched; arid very tasty  delicious; luscious; delectable
very eager keen; ambitious very thin  gaunt; haggard; emaciated
very fast quick; rapid; swift very tired  exhausted; fatigued; zonked
very fierce ferocious; vicious; relentless very ugly  hideous; repulsive; vile
very good superb; magnificent; fabulous very valuable  precious; priceless
very happy jubilant; jovial; delighted very weak  feeble; delicate; decrepit
very hot scalding; balmy; blistering very worried  anxious; perturbed