Adjectives: avoid them

Adjectives modify nouns (1).

  1. The big red bus.

Like adverbs, adjectives should be used with caution. If you must use adjectives before a noun (i.e. prenominally or attributively), don’t use more than two. Long strings of adjectives before a noun not only grow unwieldy, causing your writing to bloat, but also increase the risk of messing up their proper order, and you’ll need to worry about punctuating them.

If you hadn’t realised that adjectives come in a set order in English, compare (1) with (2).

  1. The red big bus.

Does (2) make you cringe inside? Did you shudder? The order of adjectives is a rule of English syntax you never knew you knew.

Instead of using a prenominal adjective, consider using a different noun: is there one that gives the reader an image of what you have in mind?

Consider (3) and (4).

  1. Sam lived in a big house.
  2. Sam’s house wasn’t quite a mansion.

Which sentence is more evocative? Which tells you more about Sam’s abode? Sentence (3) is a dry statement of fact, whereas (4) gives a little extra: the narrator’s opinion.

Always try to add that little bit extra to your narrative to add interest, intrigue, suspense.