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Greater Than ‘Great’

You can do better than this bland, dull modifier

Of all the useless modifiers, “great” is one of the most useless. It just lies there, squatting on a perfectly good noun, claiming to enhance our understanding of the noun but only dragging it down.

“What a great idea!”

“It’s a great way to [fill in the blank]!”

“It’s a great deal!”

“Great” adds nothing meaningful to those sentences, other than the vague sense that something good is happening. And if you have any doubt, the exclamation point will goose the sentence for you.

“Great” is to adjectives as “very” is to adverbs. It’s bland and dull, usually tossed in when the writer can’t think of anything better to say. It makes your writing flabby and slow.

How do you shape up and find more effective words?

Use a modifier that directly relates to the noun it’s paired with. Instead of “great savings” on jewelry, try “sparkling savings,” which adds value by reinforcing the idea that your jewelry is beautiful. Instead of the “great flavor” in a food or beverage you’re describing, tell us about the flavor. Spicy, smoky, sweet?

Say something that reveals more about your main thought. What’s great about that great idea? Take a few extra words to say what, specifically, appeals to you.

Empty modifiers aren’t the worst offense; they’re not even wrong, really, just lazy. They’re good enough for quick communication like email and text, or for personal messages – when what you’re saying matters more than how you say it. Go ahead and tell someone they did a great job or thank them for throwing a great party.

But when you’re writing professional content, for a client or your own work, it’s time for something greater than “great.”