Adjectives are great things to play with, in the sense that they are an easy way to give a noun some depth. If one adjective adds depth, it follows that two adjectives will be twice as useful. For example, we can quickly cover a lot of ground in a short space with:
The fat old man collapsed into the chair.
I don’t encourage writers to use more than one adjective per noun, though as you can see above, it is not always a painful read. But the two adjectives had better not be similar. Here’s where writers sometimes get a bit off track. In trying to emphasize a description, the writer instead repeats her or himself. Here’s where my “As opposed to?” adjective game comes in.
When you have two adjectives modifying a noun, the “As opposed to?” game is an easy way to check to see if the two adjectives are saying the same thing, or if they’re giving supplementary information. The game is simple. Switch out one or the other adjective with its opposite, and ask yourself “As opposed to—?” in the sentence.
Example One: He had a deep, concentrated expression on his face.
As opposed to a shallow, concentrated expression? Both “deep” and “concentrated” suggest the man is focused on something, so “deep, concentrated” is repetitious.
Example Two: A dark, heavy silence filled the room.
As opposed to a light, heavy silence? As in the first example, “dark” and “heavy” indicate an oppressive atmosphere in the room, so using both is repeating very similar information.
I find this game helps me check to see if adjectives both make sense in the context. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, modifiers (such as adjectives and adverbs) are shortcuts rather than good writing, but if you’re going to use them at all, make sure you use them sparingly, and accurately.
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