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The Four-Letter Word that Undermines Your Writing
By Paul Krantz

One of the easiest ways to improve the power of your communication is to search for (and eliminate) the word “very” in everything you write. Very is a crutch that lets you believe you are writing with precision when, in most cases, you are simply playing it safe:

The new Miss U.S.A. is very pretty.
(yawn)

I’m sure the comely lass is easy on the eyes, but adding “very” doesn’t improve on “pretty,” which is a fine word, though bland. There are much more specific (and thus powerful) words for expressing her attractiveness:

cute | winsome | adorable | lovely | gorgeous | exquisite | glamorous | dazzling | luscious | voluptuous | sexy | hot |

Now you have a range of precision adjectives for describing Miss U.S.A., each of which paints a slightly different picture in the reader’s mind.

Here are a few more examples of how “very” can be overcome:

Weak: She worked very hard on the report
Choose a stronger verb: She slaved over the report

Weak: We are very pleased that Joe will be joining our firm.
Amp up the emotion: We are ecstatic that Joe will be joining our firm.

Weak: She rode her bike very quickly  down the street.
Create an image: She tore down the street on her bike.

Weak: Maize has been cultivated in Mexico for a very long time.
Use a fact: Maize has been cultivated in Mexico for 5,000 years.

Breaking the ‘very’ habit

Get into the habit of searching for very each time you complete a draft of any communication. Take it out, then see if the sentence still expresses your thought. If it doesn’t, copy the word that very was “helping” and paste it into an online thesaurus. Sift through the results until you find the synonym that precisely (or at least closely) expresses your thought.

Just be careful not to subsititute one weak word for another, such as “big” for “large."
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