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Choosing Vocabulary: General Advice; Specific and Diverse Adjectives; 'No!' to 'Nice'! My Challenge to You

Updated on September 14, 2018
annart profile image

Ann loves to offer advice on writing, to experiment with words & to encourage others to do so by occasionally issuing challenges of her own.

How Would You Describe These?

Dragon Statue in Norwich
Dragon Statue in Norwich | Source
Cloisters
Cloisters | Source
Sun, Sea & Rocks
Sun, Sea & Rocks | Source

Oh, how nice!!

What do you mean? It’s easy to say something’s ‘nice’ but do you mean pretty, kind, gentle, brilliant, aesthetic, impressive or....?

When writing, it’s always a good idea to vary your usage of vocabulary. I always tell students “I don’t want to see the words ‘nice’ or ‘very’”! There are so many words to choose from which will be far more apt and precise.

‘Nice’ is an adjective; an adjective describes the way something is or looks. Whichever word you choose, make it specific and ensure that each alternative is a different one. A variety of words is the key to interesting and engaging reading.

For example: ‘That building is pleasing; it has fine aesthetic qualities.’


Write, write, write!

An Early Attempt (c.11/12 years old)
An Early Attempt (c.11/12 years old) | Source

General Advice: Practise Every Day!

I cannot stress enough that writing improves with practice, from as early an age as possible. A few minutes a day can transform an average ability to writing which is well-formatted, well-presented and imaginative, whatever the subject. It also develops your style, your ‘voice’.

You’ll soon get into the habit of thinking carefully about your vocabulary, your phraseology, your use of paragraphs, your juxtaposition of shorter or longer sentences. Vary the pace and you’ll keep your reader’s attention.

No one is ever the perfect writer but you can make sure you produce the best you can on a given day, by thinking about your words and your construction each time you sit down to compose an article or a story.

A word of warning though; never use a word just because you like it! Make sure it’s relevant and above all that you don’t sound as though you’re trying to show off your own knowledge. Readers need to feel comfortable, not swamped with unnecessarily ‘big’ words which may not be easily understood. Simple but varied is best and always, but always, proof-read your writing at least twice; immediately and once more a little later.

Which would you rather read?

‘He pursued the woman with the perambulator whilst driving his automobile, until they reached the interchange of highways. Then he extinguished the turbo engine, alighted from his transport and ran to engage her in conversation.’

or

‘In his car, he followed the girl with the pram until they reached the crossroads. Switching off the engine, he got out and ran to talk to her.'

I know which I'd prefer.


1-2-3 Technique

Using words in groups of three gives a satisfaction to the reader.

Here are some examples of 1-2-3:

‘The lorry crunched, growled and whined its way up the hill.’

‘He stopped, he looked, he turned pale.’

Better still, use alliteration (same letter starting key words),

‘The lorry spat, spewed and spluttered its way up the hill’.

There is a certain rhythm to the number three, it appeals to the ear.


Three Bouncy Castle Words

They bounded, bounced and bawled their way to the bottom.
They bounded, bounced and bawled their way to the bottom. | Source

Paragraphs

Your reader wants to be able to see a layout that is easy on the eyes, not a huge chunk of text with no breaks.

A paragraph should deal with one point, or angle, or particular description. Then start the next paragraph for the ensuing points in your article or the next part of your story. Totally different sections in a novel need separate chapters. Here I’m sticking to short articles or stories.

Make sure your paragraphs start with different words. The number of times I’ve seen ‘The….. (end of para)’, (next para) ‘The….’ and so on. The rule is not hard and fast; occasionally for effect you may want to use the same word but it’s generally not advisable.

Vary the length of each paragraph. Just like breaking up a paragraph with shorter and longer sentences, shorter and longer paragraphs keep the reader on his/her toes.


Faces, Clothes, Objects, Weather....

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Faces: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away!Clothes: Cecil BeatonDog, Frog & HedgehogWeather: sunset
Faces: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away!
Faces: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away! | Source
Clothes: Cecil Beaton
Clothes: Cecil Beaton | Source
Dog, Frog & Hedgehog
Dog, Frog & Hedgehog | Source
Weather: sunset
Weather: sunset | Source

Not 'Nice'! Alternative Words

Let’s start the attack, then, on my pet hate ‘nice’: I would suggest the following variations to mean something tasteful or pleasant.

For people:

amenable, attentive, attractive, calm, caring, convivial, easy-going, elegant, endearing, entertaining, down-to-earth, fair, gentle, genial, happy, helpful, pleasant, polite, pretty, quirky, quick-witted, reliable, selfless, sensitive, thoughtful, under-estimated..

For pastimes:

absorbing, active, challenging, diverse, easy, effortless, enjoyable, engaging, fun, funky, interesting, occupying, popular, pleasant, refreshing,

For clothes:

appropriate, apt, chic, classy, colourful, delicate, delightful, dressy, elegant, fancy, fine, flattering, flowery, formal, fresh, gay, jazzy, pretty, quirky, tailored, tasteful, well-fitted,

For objects:

colourful, decorative, elegant, handy, light, practical, precise, specific, stylish, tasty, useful,

For weather:

airy, average, balmy, breezy, calm, clear, delightful, fresh, hazy, lazy, peaceful, quiet, restful, refreshing, salty, vibrant, warm, welcome,

For food:

appetizing, tasty, spicy, yummy, appealing,

You get the picture.


Thesaurus

You could add many of your own suggestions, I’m sure. A good source of words is a thesaurus; it can be tedious - so many words, such a lot of black and white, so many pages - but it’s extremely useful. These days, some are arranged to be more user-friendly, using colour to differentiate or larger print to be easier on the eye.


Source of Alternative Words

Roget's Thesaurus - Penguin Reference by George Davidson (Editor)
Roget's Thesaurus - Penguin Reference by George Davidson (Editor) | Source

Now Put Them in a Sentence

Words are not much use out of context, so let’s have a look at putting some of these to work. Below are a few examples of including appropriate words in sentences which might occur often.

She’s a nice person:

She’s such an endearing person that everyone enjoys her company.

He’s so helpful, even when I ask him to clean my mud-covered car.

My friends are delightful, always kind and making me laugh.

The nice thing about... :

The best thing about Fred is his fantastic physique!

The likeable thing about Sarah is her smile.

The attractive thing about Betty is her body!

It was a nice.... :

It was a pleasant evening so we all stayed outside for Pimm’s on the patio.

That was an enjoyable party at Tracy’s; the food was tasty and so was she in that flattering dress.

What a clever idea of yours to build a barbecue on the roof!

That was a handy idea, making a turn-table for the quintuplets.

So now you can go through all your writing, all your stories, articles and hubs, look at your choice of vocabulary and maybe change a few. I’ll be doing the same. How nice is that?!


Jane Austen

Drawing of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra
Drawing of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra | Source

Jane Austen's View of 'Nice'

‘Nice’ is used so often that it has come to mean something mundane, or even not good, because people don’t try to find a better word, aren’t inspired to use a more fitting, dynamic or spectacular word.’

What better support for my opinion than a quote from the perceptive, witty, sometimes sarcastic writing of Jane Austen. Here is another from a paragraph in ‘Northanger Abbey ‘ where the author is indirectly having her own rant about ‘nice’ through the character of Henry Tilney,

‘... and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement - people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.’

I’m glad to be in accordance with such a renowned author as Miss Austen.


More Examples of Jane Austen's Writing

Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which comment, often with wit and sarcasm, upon the British landed gentry and society at the end of the 18th century. Much of her comments came from personal observation and experience of that society.

The following are quotes from my two favourite Austen novels. They illustrate her use of words for specific effect.

From 'Pride & Prejudice':

Mr Bennett (Elizabeth’s father) is a kind and intelligent man. He tolerates the superficiality of his wife who tends to be flighty and has little sense. Elizabeth is proposed to by the most unsuitable Mr Collins, whom she does not love, and her father’s reaction is this:

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

There is a rhythm in this text, there is humour and there is a sense of Mr Bennett's character.

From 'Sense & Sensibility':

“It is not everyone,' said Elinor, 'who has your passion for dead leaves.”

She says this to Marianne who has been waxing lyrical about dead leaves in winter, ‘driven in showers about me by the wind’. Marianne is a total romantic, interested in poetry, music and art. Elinor brings her down to earth with her practicality, if a little sarcastic. It is humorous, short and to the point. The use of the word 'dead' has the effect of finishing the conversation.


Pet Hates

Which words are your pet hates? Do you agree that a careful choice of words is important? There are so many good writers here on hubpages, many of whom can teach me a thing or two about composition so I’d love to hear your views and comments.


Challenge

Your challenge is to come up with a brilliant description of one of the three photos at the beginning of this hub. Weave that description into a story or poem of some sort. Off you go!

Don’t forget to let me know if you respond to this challenge! Please provide a link so that I can add it to this hub.


Responses:

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Victor-A-Free-Verse-Poem - Chris Mills

https://hubpages.com/literature/Ann-Arts-Challenge-Latest - Eric Dierker

https://hubpages.com/literature/Under-the-Might-A-Poem-in-Response-to-Annarts-Description-Challenge - Rinita Sen (Senoritaa)

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Magic-Dragon-of-Norwich - John Hansen (Jodah)

https://hubpages.com/literature/The-True-Order-of-... - Rodric Johnson



The Writer's World

Sit down at your desk, think.... write!
Sit down at your desk, think.... write! | Source

Vocabulary

Why is a good choice of vocabulary important to you?

See results

© 2018 Ann Carr

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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Peggy, for your interesting comment.

      If the cloisters photo spurred you to those thoughts, how about responding to the challenge? I'd love to read it.

      Good to see you today!

      Ann

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It has been many decades since I was a student taking an English class but reading has always been a passion of mine. Well-written articles such as this one make us think of choosing more descriptive words than ones like "nice." Have a nice day Ann. Just kidding! (Smile)

      The cloisters photo spurred my thoughts of shadows, light and prayerful ponderings of eternal life.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you Rodric. I appreciate you taking up the challenge and I shall be reading it tomorrow. My condolences for your loss.

      Ann

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      3 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      It took a few days to finish it up because of a family loss, but here is my contribution link:

      https://hubpages.com/literature/The-True-Order-of-...

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, John, and a great response it is too!

      Just as a bit of trivia, this dragon's name is 'Skipper' - a bit strange!

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Ann, here is a link to my response to your challenge: https://letterpile.com/poetry/The-Magic-Dragon-of-...

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, manatita. Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, Austen is one of my favourites; she has a wit about her that is unequaled.

      I like to be light-hearted when talking about words as they should inspire and delight, just like you do with your poems!

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Rinita. I've just read it and it's superb!

      Ann

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      A very 'nice' (oops!) most delightful Hub. You covered a lot and seem very light-hearted at times.

      Jane Austin was an awesome writer.

      Some colourful pictures and sense of good taste in your style and immaculate choice of words.

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      3 months ago

      Hi Ann, I am back with my response: https://letterpile.com/poetry/Under-the-Might-A-Po...

      I really wanted to write a story this time, but when I began to write, it took the shape of a poem.

      Now I am off to read the wonderful creations of the other participants.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thanks Eric! It's always great to share thoughts and opinions.

      Ann

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Maybe most folk would not cherish this interchange. I suppose it is of little import in our lives. But to have Ann and Bill exchange ideas seems to me really cool. Good enough for me.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, bill. Yes, it's the teacher in me that made me do this. Sometimes I feel like I'm preaching (lecturing!) but then I make mistakes too and we all need a reminder of the 'basics'!

      I understand that you haven't got the time to take up the challenge, bill, so no worries. Your best descriptions will be in your writing anyway.

      Have a thrilling Thursday!

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I dearly wish I could take on this challenge, but if I did it would be rushed and not my best effort. I'm sorry. This challenge is right up my alley, too!

      Nice...lazy writing....and I'm so happy you wrote this article pointing that out. If one labels oneself a "writer," then a responsibility comes with that . . . to be the best one can be . . . I'm so glad the teacher in your erupted with this fine lecture/scolding! lol

      bill

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you found this interesting. We all have our weak points and know most of the issues I've written about but it's good to have a reminder once in a while!

      Ann

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      It's a very useful and educative article for us, writers. Very much appealing and inspiring.

      I am accustomed to using some pet words like nice, awesome, beautiful, etc. in all my posts. But, recently, I am trying to change these habits. It is true that some words or adjectives have become so much redundant that they have lost their meaning nowadays. You aptly reminded us of these weak points.

      Thanks, Ann, for this intuitive piece.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      mwjoseph: Yes, an expanded vocabulary gives us more scope and therefore can make our writing more interesting.

      Thanks for the visit.

      By the way, I've just noticed that you've been here 7 years but have published no hubs as yet. How about taking up my challenge to create your first article here?

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you Rodric. I look forward to reading your response to the challenge.

      As to 'however', sometimes you don't need it at all, not even an alternative. Read the sentence to see if it stands on its own, or if it needs the emphasis for contrast to the previous text.

      'Though' has its place too. All words can be effective as long as they are relevant and not over-used, I think.

      Thanks for the valuable input.

      Ann

    • mwjoseph profile image

      mwjoseph 

      3 months ago

      I love expanding my vocabulary makes me a more effective writer

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      3 months ago from Peoria, Arizona

      I am going to accept this challenge and post a link. I must, however, comment first. I loved this. I learned. You put in words things that my heart already knew. One of my first book critiques came by way of a friend of mine who said nothing of the story but of the number of times I used the pronouns he or she. I was offended firstly. I later read my words and could focus on nothing else besides what he said or she did--the pronouns appeared so often! That was the beginning of my writing transformation.

      One word I hate to use is the word though. I use it. I also hate using the word however. I have found replacements (incidentally for starters) but always come back to however! Its versatility is too alluring! It has become my nice!

      I now hate the word nice. I do not think I have ever used that word in my writings. It is such an ambiguous word.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, Rinita. Looking forward to reading your response!

      Ann

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      3 months ago

      Great! Another challenge, isn't that 'nice'?

      I hope to be back, if I can make something out of this.

      If nothing else does it, Austen's sarcasm will.

      Thanks Ann, for writing this. My pet hates are both 'very' and 'paragraphs starting with the same word'.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, John. I hope you manage to take up the challenge; looking forward to reading it.

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Yes, Mary, 'sweet' is one of my bug-bears too. I think that many people don't even look at the start of paragraphs but it does make a difference.

      Thanks for your comment and great input.

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Flourish. Words are powerful indeed.

      Hope you're having a great week.

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Hi Chris! Thank you for your comment. You are already a superb writer but I know we all need to give ourselves a nudge sometimes. I'm so glad you're taking up the challenge and I'll be reading it later today. That was quick!

      Ann

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Eric. Your comment raises an interesting idea - vocabulary therapy! I think anything where we have to think more carefully and delve into a depth of possibilities, gives us an avenue to get away from the outside world and channel our thoughts specifically. We can escape from all else because there is a specific focus.

      I might just pursue that too.

      I hope you have a happy week.

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I really need to take notice of this, Ann. I admit to often being too lazy to look for alternative words to my those in my usual vocabulary. I will attempt to meet this challenge if I have time. Wonderful work as always.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      3 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Ann, here is my response to your challenge. Thanks for the opportunity.

      https://letterpile.com/poetry/The-Victor-A-Free-Ve...

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I do use “nice” many times because of laziness to think out an apt word for what I see. There is another word I get upset about: sweet. Our grandchildren use it instead of nice. Everything is “sweet”. But the special get away for me is the use of same words to start a paragraph. I have to be conscious about this to improve my writing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 months ago from USA

      This was a very, very nice article. You really totally were awesome in the way you said how to be more interesting when you write. Great job!

      All kidding aside, I agree with you that sometimes we take the easy way out by avoiding saying or writing precisely what we mean. It leaves the audience guessing. We need instead to paint the picture for the reader, visually, psychologically, etc, Words can be powerful tools.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      3 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      As a writer, the choices we have regarding vocabulary help me make my descriptions much more specific. Your article makes me think I still don't give it enough thought. I accept your challenge.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Ann this is as good of any spot I suppose. Dementia and oncology. For private reasons I was in an art therapy class. (what a blast) I asked the leader if vocabulary therapy class made sense. She told me to follow up. I said "I have just the expert".

      Why aren't we using this stimulation more aggressively?

      You can write me back privately as to not turn this "nice" hub sideways ;-)

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