Ineffective Adjectives

Ineffective Adjectives

Many beginning writers use adjectives that do not add information to the sentence. In the first example below, for instance, red does not help the description.  Even though some tomatoes are green, most people think of tomatoes as red unless told otherwise.

red tomatoes                 green jungle                 scary ghost                  muscular weightlifter

Individual Activity

Decide if the underlined adjectives are (a) effective or (b) wordy.

 1. Bright lightning struck the tree in the pasture. 

 2. An expensive Mercedes convertible whizzed past us.

 3. A bald man wearing a red tie would like to see you in the lobby.

 4. A watchful eagle sent the rabbits running for cover.

 5. A bloodthirsty vampire lurked in the shadows.

Writing Effective Adjectives

To create effective description, try doing these. 

  • Be precise.             Look carefully at what you wish to describe.  
  • Be humorous.         Make the writing funny, but without using a cliché.
  • Use verbs.              Use action to do boring description into something exciting.


  • Vague language – words or phrases that are hard for readers to “see.”
  • Clichés – words or phrases we have heard many times.

For example:

    1. Hot

Ineffective:     The desert was hot.     (Vague)

Effective:        The temp broke 110 Fahrenheit by 10 a.m., with heat shimmering off the desert whose hard-packed ground was bleached to the color of bones. 

    1. Cold

Ineffective:     The day was cold.       (Vague)

Effective:        The day was so cold that Schelze’s words froze into long icicles whenever he tried to speak.   

    1. Short

Ineffective:     Glenda was so short that her feet did not reach the floor.             (Cliché)

Effective:        Glenda was an inch shorter than a yardstick.

    1. Tall

Ineffective:     I was assigned to guard a very tall girl.  (Vague)

Effective:        I’m 5’2”, and the girl I was assigned to guard seemed so tall that she would have to bend down to dunk.

    1. Young

Ineffective:     A young boy trudged alongside the highway.  (Vague)

Effective:        A boy of about six and seemingly as thin as a pigeon’s feather trudged alongside the highway as cars zipped past, no one slowing for him.

    1. Old

Ineffective:     The old man was as old as dirt.  (Cliché)

Effective:        The old man tottered along, supported by a crooked walking stick, his head splotched with liver spots and his gums continually moving.

    1. Smart

Ineffective:     It came as a shock when Maria Alvarez realized she was the smartest in class.  (Vague)

Effective:        It came as a shock when Maria Alvarez realized that no one else in the fourth grade had heard of quadratic equations, much less how to solve them.

    1. Dumb

Ineffective:     Angelito was dumb as an ox. (Cliché)

Effective:        Angelito was so dumb he could not tell time with a digital watch.

    1. Beautiful

Ineffective:     The mountain was beautiful.  (Vague)

Effective:        The mountain lifted into the dawn, its snows shining like tinfoil.

    1. Ugly

Ineffective:     The witch had grimy hair, a wart on her nose, and a hideous grin.  (Cliché)

Effective:        The witch had a black cat curled up on her head like a furry hat, the weathered skin of have face covered with blood-rimmed scratches that oozed pus whenever she grinned.

Individual or Small Group Activity

Turn any five of the following into effective writing:

    1. The job was easy.
    2. The job was hard.
    3. Our teacher is mean.
    4. Our teacher is nice.
    5. The snake was very long.
    6. The ice was thin.
    7. Everyone was tired.
    8. The climb was dangerous.
    9. The shark was big.
    10. The ocean was vast.

Individual or Small Group Activity

Complete both exercises:     Croatia


Optional Activity