When editing, I’m always hesitant to ask a writer to stop using a word. Doing that can seem like asking someone to stunt their vocabulary. Having said that, there are certain words that I find myself changing or deleting 90% of the time, and one of the biggest culprits is the ‘V’ word.
So, what’s the problem with “very”? After all, it’s one of the first words we learn as children.
Well, that’s kind of the problem with it. It’s an adverb we use as a quantifier when we don’t yet have the vocabulary to express ourselves with more specific terms. It still has its uses, especially in spoken English, but most of the time it seems childish, vague and redundant when written down.
Your choice of an alternative word to “very” should depend on the context – there’s no uniform replacement for “very”, and the fact that the word is so general and wishy-washy is why it should usually be avoided in writing. “Highly” is an obvious suggestion, and phrases like “highly technical” sound far better than “very technical”, but you wouldn’t say somebody was “highly happy”. In other cases, such as when there are a range of reasons for the adjective to apply, “particularly” or “especially” can work well, but at other times it will make no sense.
The problem is that by suggesting replacements for “very”, you can end up with some even more unusual sounding phrases. Microsoft Word’s thesaurus suggests words like “vastly” and “extraordinarily” as synonyms for “very”. Before you know it, you could be on to “quintessentially” and “unequivocally”, and the phrase begins to look like it’s been run through a spam-generating article rewriter tool.
So, here’s an alternative idea – leave out the adverb and just use an adjective. Many adjectives have an alternative word that suggests an enhanced state – for example, “very good” could be “excellent”, “very happy” can be “delighted” and “very large” can be “enormous”. Straight away, you’re writing in a more concise and descriptive way.
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