The Importance of Using Precise Language in Writing

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  • 0:01 Nouns
  • 1:17 Modifiers
  • 2:15 Verbs
  • 2:49 Simile
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathy Wilson

Cathy Wilson has taught college literature and composition, junior-high and high-school English, and secondary art. She has a master's degree in American Literature.

The simple tips in this lesson will help your writing come to life. Learn how to choose particular nouns and verbs that are active or that show precise states of being, perfect modifiers, and, as an added bonus, a very powerful writing tool: similes.


Meet Eric and Dana. Dana is having a treat, and she's called Eric to tell him about it. She says, 'My mom got me a treat!' He says, 'Nice!'

No wonder Eric didn't get too excited about Dana's treat; there was no way for him to know just how yummy it really was. How could Dana help Eric understand what an awesome treat she really had? She would do that by using specific words to describe what she had, like 'chocolate-chip ice cream,' 'creamy vanilla,' 'fresh kiwi' and 'toasted pecans.'

When we choose just the right words in writing, using specific, precise word choice, our readers will understand just what we're talking about. For example, you could say, 'I like fruit.' When someone reads this, they may get all sorts of ideas and images in their heads. However, if you say, 'I like oranges,' they may see something very different. So, first of all, go for very specific nouns, and as you know, a noun is a person, place or thing.


But a well-chosen noun can only take you so far. To show your reader what you really mean, you will need to add some modifiers. There are a few to choose from, such as adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases. But don't let all that confuse you! Basically, what you need to find is just the right modifiers to precisely communicate what you mean to your reader.

As an example, let's say you want to write about a truck. No, that's not what you meant! You want to describe your dad's new truck. What kind of a truck is it? It is a 'brand-new, tuxedo-black, short-bed Ford F150.'

Did you notice, by the way, that when we use two words to modify a noun, we hyphenate them? Anyhow, modifiers are a wonderful way to let your readers know exactly what you mean.


Here's another great way: precise, active verbs. Let's say you want to write about someone who is walking. But that's not quite what you're trying to say. Maybe you want to say he was 'limping.' Or maybe you want to say he was 'dancing' down the street.

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