‘Very’ is a very bad word

Improve your writing by limiting its use

Vuyo Ngcakani
3 min readSep 25, 2022


Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

I took a writing course some time ago where the instructor asked me to cut down on my word count. She said it was too long for a particular magazine. I had a very hard, I mean difficult time doing so because I loved every word and sentence in the story. She showed me a few ways of reducing my word count, one of which was to eliminate the use of the word ‘very’.

‘Very’ is a very tempting word to use. Oops! It is easy to be lured into using it. It adds emphasis to the very thing we're trying to describe.

We don’t want it to be hot. We want it to be very hot.
It wasn’t cold. It was very cold.
She isn’t old. She’s very old.

You get the idea. There is a very good, I mean better way.

What is its use

As mentioned before, very denotes a great or high degree of something. When we say a mountain is very high, we’re not saying it’s the highest mountain. We may be in awe of its height compared to some other high object.

Or if the water is very hot, we may be describing something we can’t put a finger into or drink until it cools down.

The better way

Very is a very good modifier of adverbs and adjectives. However, there are words in the English language that by definition mean the very thing you’ve added very to.

very hot = scalding
very cold = frigid
very old = ancient
very beautiful = stunning

Could it be that the use of these single words would improve your sentence and make you look like a literary genius? I say yes.

Which sentence do you think has more impact?

  1. I was in awe of the boulder as it was very big.
  2. I was in awe of the boulder as it was massive.


  1. I wolfed down the clam chowder because I was very hungry.
  2. I wolfed down the clam chowder because I was ravenous.


  1. My neck veins pulsed as…



Vuyo Ngcakani

writer, husband for 28 years, father of 3, grandfather of 2. I write about fatherhood, parenting, Christianity, & other topics. https://vuyongcakani.com