Saturday, August 30, 2008

Do You Really Mean It?

After a rash of posts this week at BlogCatalog in which "really" appeared in quotation marks, I was moved to explore this overused word. Really acts as an adverb that intensifies other words or means "in truth" or "in fact".

Really does not, however, indicate the degree to which a writer wished to intensify the word modified. For that reason, many regard it as a fluff word, intended only to take up space rather than to add meaning to your sentences. In telling your readers that you feel "really sad", really only implies "more than a little".

In that case, you may as well use "very sad", as both nondescript words leave your readers with a nebulous idea of your intentions. Rather, you could specify that you are morose, that you feel dejected, or that you are prostrated with grief. All give your audience a clearer idea of what you mean.

It its other use, really stands for "actually" or "truly". These adverbs intensify words as well. After an accomplishment in a new hobby, you may write that you consider yourself "really a lacrosse player, now". You played the game before, but you feel more like a player after the new experiences.

While this second definition works better to explain your intent to your readers, really has garnered such a poor reputation from its excessive use that you would do better to avoid it. You can alter your sentence and use the adjective form of real. Instead of "I am really a lacrosse player, now," you can write "I am a real lacrosse player, now." Thus you make clear that you felt like a pretender until your recent successes. Then again, you could just write that and remove all doubt.