It has been wisely said that the adjective is the enemy of the noun. If we seldom see the noun danger except in company with real or serious we think less of it than it deserves when we find it standing by itself. If we make a habit of saying " The true facts are these ", we shall come under suspicion when we profess to tell merely " the facts ". If a crisis is always acute and an emergency always grave, what is left for those words to do by themselves? If active constantly accompanies consideration, we shall think we are being fobbed off when we are promised bare consideration. If a decision is always qualified by definite, a decision by itself becomes a poor filleted thing. If conditions are customarily described as prerequisite or essential, we shall doubt whether a condition without an adjective is really a condition at all.
Cultivate the habit of reserving adjectives to make your meaning more precise, and suspect those that you find yourself using to make it more emphatic. Be on your guard against slipping into that automatic sort of writing in which every test is acid and every moment psychological. Use adjectives to denote kind rather than degree. By all means say an economic crisis or a military disaster, but think well before saying an acute crisis or a terrible disaster. Say if you like "The proposal met with noisy opposition and is in obvious danger of defeat". But do not say "The proposal met with considerable opposition and is in real danger of defeat". If that is all you want to say it is better to leave out the adjectives and say "The proposal met with opposition and is in danger of defeat".
Beware in particular of pushful adjectives of vague intensification, such as considerable, appreciable and substantial. None of these three should ever be used without three questions being first asked. Do I need an adjective at all? If so, would not a more specific adjective suit better? If not, which of these three words (with their different shades of meaning) serves my purpose best? Have we not reached the stage when "This is urgent" sounds more urgent than "This is a matter of considerable urgency"?
|« Style »||« Guide »||« ABC of Plain Words »||« Use Of English »||« Library »||« Home »|