Four little letters: v-e-r-y.
While very is indeed a very useful word, when overused, it can make writing sound very boring.
Plus, if we write this sentence another way, it can sound completely different: While very is indeed an invaluable word, when overused, it can make writing sound uninteresting and mundane.
See the difference?
When to use very
Very has its purpose as an adverb that modifies adjectives: it gives them intensity.
For writers who are just starting out, like young students or those just learning English, it’s a useful tool that eases them into modifiers. However, more advanced writers can do away with it and use more precise techniques.
How to practice using other words
Step 1: synonyms
A good place to start is to replace very with a different synonym. Modifiers are important!
If you’re tired of using very, there are plenty of synonyms to use instead that will be more descriptive. For example, take this sentence: It’s very important that you take your lunch to school.
At seven in the morning rushing out the door, any child will whip right past their lunchbox. However, just switching out very makes the sentence sound more immediate: It’s exceedingly important that you take your lunch to school.
Choosing the correct word for the job might require some thought. In the previous example, very sounds neutral while exceedingly sounds more hurried. The problem with the word very is that it can be used to describe a lot of things and can have a lot of different tones behind it: He was very smart. They were very mad. She fought very hard.
Words like extraordinarily, exceptionally, or remarkably make your adjective sound important and impressive. However, words like awfully, seriously, or terribly make the tone more somber. Saying, “This chocolate cake is uncommonly good” will communicate that the dessert is both very good and unusually good. Describing a doctor as “eminently qualified” underscores the point in a way that “very qualified” does not.
Step 2: sentence structure
If you think you’re ready to ditch very all together, it’s time to talk about structuring your sentence so that you don’t need it to begin with.
Not using very is a matter of specificity. The art gallery was very full that night, is a sentence that has potential to be interesting but leaves the reader unsatisfied.
Introduce some imagery and you’ll instantly make the sentence more interesting, as in The art gallery was so crammed that night you couldn’t move without touching someone else!
What about this example? She was very tired last night. A more specific sentence can appeal to several senses. How did she look? What did she say? Where was she? After practice, she collapsed on the couch with a sigh and fell asleep instantly.
Step 3: vocabulary expansion
Another way to be more specific in your writing is to expand your vocabulary. Often, a very followed by an adjective can be replaced with a single word. The neighbor across the street isn’t “very pretty,” they’re lovely. When you asked for the manager at the restaurant, you weren’t “very angry” but instead irate. That candy isn’t “very sweet,” it’s toothsome.
If you’re not sure what word to use, it’s OK to look at a thesaurus (we’re here to help!) or peek at what words other writers you read use.
The final tip is to edit, edit, and edit again. Asking a friend to look over your work will give a fresh set of eyes, but you can always edit yourself. Pro tip: read your work out loud as that will really help you hear if you’re using a certain word very often.