10 intensifiers you should really, absolutely avoid

Unless something or someone inspired awe, stop using the word awesome. And while you’re at it, stop abusing very, fabulous and seven other intensifiers.

You are not hereby forbidden to employ the following adjectives according to their casual connotations. But to strengthen your writing, try limiting usage to that which most closely reflects their literal meaning:

1. Absolute: The original sense of absolute is “ultimate,” but now it is weakly used as an intensifier (“It was an absolute riot!”). Minimize, too, usage in the connotations of “outright” and “unquestionable” and reserve it to mean “unrestrained” or “fundamental.”

2. Awesome: Originally, something awesome inspired awe. Now, the most mundane phenomena are exalted as such. Try devoting this word to truly spectacular sensations alone.

3. Fabulous: This adjective, derived from fable, once referred to sensory stimuli one might expect to encounter in a flight of fancy. It’s long since been appropriated to describe extravagant fashion sense or, more mundanely, notable accomplishments, but it is most potent when restricted to describing phantasmagorical phenomena.

4. Fantastic: Avoid using as a synonym for excellent; senses such as “unbelievable,” “enormous,” and “eccentric” are truer to the source.

5. Incredible: As with fantastic, usage of this word has strayed far from the original meaning of something that does not seem possible. Only if a story literally cannot be believed is it authentically incredible.

6. Magnificent: Something magnificent was originally grand or sumptuous, exalted or sublime, but the word has been diminished in impact by its exclamation in response to merely commendable achievements. Reserve usage to describe things of stunning impact.

7. Real: This term derives from the Latin term res, “thing, fact,” and should be used only to denote genuine, actual, extant, practical phenomena; minimize its use, and that of the adverb really, as a synonym for complete or completely.

8. Terrific: Terrific, originally referring to something terrifying, has long been rendered impotent by use as a synonym for great, but try to reserve it for such descriptions as “a terrific crash.”

9. Very: The most abused word on this list—and one of the most in the entire English language—comes from the Latin word for “true.” Consider restraining yourself from using it in writing except to convey verity, precision, and other adjectival connotations, rather than the adverbial sense of “exceedingly.”

10. Wonderful: Use when a sense of wonder is involved, or at least when there’s an element of surprise, not just to suggestion a reaction of delight.


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