Column: A very over-used word


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be.

-Mark Twain

Here’s the scene: You offer to drive to lunch, and, just before everyone gets in, you make a mad sweep around your car, grabbing old to-go cups and discarded wrappers and putting them in an old Wendy’s bag. Maybe that’s not you; perhaps your car is somewhat tidier. Regardless, just as everyone gets into your car, you commence with the obligatory statement that goes something like this: “Sorry, my car is such a mess. It’s very dirty. I’ve been meaning to vacuum it out for the past six years.”

Whether our car interiors are clean or not, we all repeat a version of the obligatory apology when we give someone else a ride. Guess what? It’s unnecessary. You have permission to quit apologizing.

Here’s a word we don’t need to say anymore: very. “The book was very funny.” “The Olympian jumped very high.” “The president was very upset.” Boring.

If “very” is overused, as I suggest, what alternatives do we have? Let me propose two options. First, simply omit the word and proceed with your sentence as usual. As Mr. Twain suggests, you should simply search your entire document (when writing) or somehow audit your brain for words it knows (when speaking), then merely delete the word from your entire lexicon. You don’t need to say or write “very” if you’re using it as a “filler” or “padding” word. The same thing goes for the word “really.” Really.

You may still wish to convey the same kind of emphasis you think “very” injects. After all, “very” is an intensifier, which is an example of an adverb or adverbial phrase that shows emphasis, thereby making a phrase or sentence stronger. Very well; you can substitute scores of more interesting words for “very,” depending on the level of severity you’d like to communicate. 

Rather than saying something is “very fast,” say it was “quick.” If you want to convey that something is “very good,” instead say that it is “superb.” Don’t say “very hungry.” “Ravenous” is much more interesting. 

It may take more creativity, but substituting the word “very” will infuse your speech with the exact intensity or tone you want. So, either stop saying “very” or find a better word. Just like with the obligatory car apology, “very” is overused and often superfluous.


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