Thursday, November 22, 2007

Back to Basics: Adjectives

You use an adjective to describe or modify a noun or pronoun. They help you write specific descriptions and sentences. You can have too much of a good thing, however. Which of the following sentences would you rather read?

A tall, thin woman with red hair walked quickly into the room.

A lanky red-head strode into the room.

You need adjectives to draw a mental picture for your reader, but be careful that they don't become a crutch. Remember the old writing adage: show, don't tell. When you find yourself using three adjectives to describe a single thing, try to find words that do the job of two or more of the ones you've used.

Now that you've been warned of the seductive dangers of adjectives, let's take a look at some ways they are used. As above, many are directly linked to their subject. In fact, when getting creative about describing nouns, you need to pay attention to where your adjectives land. You may accidentally modify the wrong thing by trying to get your adjectives farther from your nouns.

For a thorough explanation of adjectives, adjectival clauses, and participles—those are verbs dressed in adjective clothing—take a gander through Capital Community College page about adjectives. I chose their page because they expose the seamy underbelly of Thomas Wolfe, teeming with descriptors rather than strong prose.

The page also has a list of adjectives that cannot be used in degrees. I can sound more intelligent than my brother, but the vote on that is either unanimous or it isn't. You can't have be more unanimous than unanimous.

I think that's enough on adjectives on this Thanksgiving Thursday. I'll return tomorrow, perhaps with more modifiers. Only time will tell.