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Improve Writing Skills with Connotation: Verbs and Adjectives

Updated on August 30, 2013

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This is the second entry in my online writing classes. The first covered the basic essay format. This entry in my online writing courses will discuss how to improve writing skills by using colorful verbs and adjectives, which is part of style or voice.

Style is an important part of writing skills. It gives your paper interest, and it makes your unique voice evident. Style is often difficult to teach. It seems that some people “have it,” while others don’t. For example, I feel pretty sure that the great writers like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson never had to take online writing courses on style. Even if you don’t have a natural gift for word choice, however, there are several ways to improve your writing skills, and I hope you'll find my online writing classes helpful.


Many words we use have connotation. Connotation is an idea that’s suggested by a word, beyond its literal meaning. Connotations often include emotions and judgments. For example, the words determined and stubborn have much the same literal meaning, but determined is usually a positive character trait, while stubborn is usually negative.


You can improve writing skills by paying more attention to the verbs you use. We all know what verbs are, right? Verbs are words that show action:

The horse ran across the field.

The dog sniffed the empty can.

My mother cooked dinner.

The words in italics are all verbs. Every sentence must contain a verb, and the verb you choose to use can add more meaning to your sentence without actually changing the basic meaning of the sentence:

The girl rose quickly from her chair.

The girl leapt from her chair.

These two sentences have the same meaning, but the second one is more interesting. Leapt helps your reader create a stronger mental image because it carries connotation.

Another example:

The old man walked down the road.

The old man trudged down the road.

The second sentence has far more connotation than the first. With trudged, the reader gets the sense that walking was difficult for the old man. See? Just by changing the verb, you’ve added meaning to the sentence and have made it more colorful and interesting.


You can also improve writing skills by using adjectives. Adjectives are words that describe nouns:

The shaggy dog needed a bath.

The red truck was for sale.

The words in italics are adjectives. Adjectives add description to sentences, but they aren’t grammatically necessary. In other words, a sentence doesn’t have to contain an adjective.

Like verbs, adjectives can have connotation that can make your sentences more interesting, thereby improving your writing skills by adding to your style or voice.

Look at these two sentences:

The crippled man walked down the road.

The crooked man walked down the road.

Crooked implies that the man’s body was bent in some way because of his affliction. Crooked has more connotation than crippled.

Some adjectives are just more interesting than others. Take the following sentences, for example:

The red berries hung from the tree.

The crimson berries hung from the tree.

His white face revealed that he was in shock.

His alabaster face revealed that he was in shock.

The old man walked down the bumpy road.

The old man walked down the rutted road.

Let’s try using colorful verbs and adjectives in the same sentence:

The old man walked down the road.

The crooked old man trudged down the rutted road.

See how the second sentence is much more interesting than the first? This is due to connotation, which can become part of your style or voice and improve your writing skills.

A word of caution

When you’re learning how to improve your writing skills with the use of colorful verbs and adjectives, don’t get carried away. Think of it as eating fudge. A little bit is wonderful, but too much can make you sick!

When I was teaching actual writing courses, I’d often have students go through their papers and circle every other verb. I would then ask them to change every boring verb to one that had more interest. You can do the same thing with adjectives.

To read more about writing skills, check out my other online writing courses, found below. I’ll be adding to these in the coming weeks. If you’re a high school student wanting to learn how to improve your writing skills, I hope you find my free online writing classes helpful!

Improve writing skills with my free writing courses!
Improve writing skills with my free writing courses!

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