The soul of writing is specificity, yet all too often we lean on general purpose words instead of choosing more precise ones.
Most of our daily communication probably depends on fewer than 1,000 words. Of course, that includes words such as “you,” “I,” “is,” “are,” “of” and “for,” which are already the best words for the job. I admit that sometimes in conversation, I deliberately limit my vocabulary because I don’t want others to look at me quizzically: “Who does he think he is, anyway—one of the authors of a writing tips blog?” The result is vague, even boring, conversation, using words so general they could fit almost everything in the world.
How was your trip? Fine.
How do you feel? Good.
Choosing other words is no improvement if we always choose the same words. A world where everything is “cool” or “awesome” is not much more interesting than a world where everything is “fine” or “good.”
Let’s buck the trend. Here are 41 alternatives to “good” that can’t be used to describe everything in the world because they each have specific meanings, or at least different connotations:
- breathtaking—amazing, surprising, astonishing, enough to make you gasp with pleasure, and almost enough to make you forget to breathe.
- choice—preferred, prized, specially selected. In New Zealand, the exclamation “Choice!” is used similarly to “Great!” in the United States.
- dazzling—amazing, splendid, brilliant, shining so bright that it’s hard to see it.
- delectable—highly delicious, usually describing food, from the Latin for “delight.”
- delightful—causing joy, delight or pleasure, producing positive emotion, with the same Latin root as “delectable.”
- deluxe—high quality, related to “luxury,” from the Latin for “excess.”
- enjoyable—pleasant, bringing pleasure, satisfaction or joy.
- excellent—superior, best in its class, of the highest quality, making a person shout “Excelsior!”
- exceptional—uncommon, rare, and better for being so.
- exemplary—an example of high quality, a model for others.
- fine—delicate, exquisite, almost as good as it gets. Related to the French and Latin words for “finished” and “exact.” Overused until often it merely means “acceptable.”
- exquisite—exceptionally fine or rare, with the sense of “”
- favorable—helpful, encouraging, positive, convenient, such as getting hoped-for results.
- first-rate—exceptionally good, in the highest class. Also describing a British naval vessel with more than 100 guns.
- first-string—the starting players on a sports team; that is, the best of them. Many other expressions begin with the word first.
- five-star—from the hotel rating system in which a five-star hotel is among the world’s best.
- formidable—causing awe, respect, wonder or even fear, perhaps because it’s so large or strong.
- gilt-edged—high quality, from the practice of putting a thin layer of gold on the edges of a book.
- gratifying—pleasing, satisfying, making someone content.
- incredible—amazing, beyond belief, almost too good to be true.
- luxurious—fine or comfortable, such as an expensive hotel room. I use it to show gratitude for a gift that is too fancy for my tastes.
- magnificent—splendid, elegant, noble. From the Latin word for “great deeds.”
- opulent—showy, extravagant, magnificent, sumptuous—more than luxurious, with the sense of “more than you really need.”
- pleasing—giving cheer, pleasure or enjoyment—something that pleases you.
- positive—certain, good, favorable. Currently used in expressions such as “positive energy” or “positive vibes.”
- precious—beloved, valuable, worthy, of high price. “Precious” writing is euphuistic: overly cute and takes itself too seriously.
- prime—first, as in first quality.
- rare—uncommon, scarce and therefore valuable. The gravestone of an influential English playwright is inscribed with the (misspelled) tribute “O rare Ben Johnson”.
- satisfying—sufficient, pleasing, more than adequate.
- select—privileged, specially chosen, high quality.
- shipshape—well-organized, fully prepared, meticulous, tidy. Before you embark on an ocean voyage, you want your ship to be in shape.
- sound—healthy, solid, secure, complete. If a floor is sound, you won’t fall through.
- sterling—of high, verifiable value, as in sterling silver, which is 92.5 percent pure silver. Originally referring to British coins, which had a star or a starling on them in the Middle Ages.
- striking—impressive, memorable, calling to mind the striking of a coin.
- sumptuous—costly, expensive, as in a meal with many courses of great variety.
- top-notch—belonging to the highest level, possibly from some 19th century game that used notches to keep score.
- subtle—clever and crafty, though that’s an older meaning. A subtle flavor is not overbearing, and the chef will be pleased if you tell him so.
- up to snuff—meeting the standard, adequate, sharp. Snuff is a more expensive powdered tobacco which was sniffed by higher-class gentlemen as a stimulant in the 19th
- valuable—worthy of esteem, having high worth or value.
- welcome—anticipated, a pleasure to see, received with gladness, as in “welcome news.” From the Old English for “a wished-for guest.”
- well-made—built right, properly constructed, sound.
A version of this post first appeared on Daily Writing Tips.