Self-Editing #9: Unqualified Words

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

And you thought being unqualified was a bad thing… but when it comes to your writing and the words you’ve chosen, qualifying often does more harm than good.

What’s a qualifier, you ask?

A qualifier is an unnecessary word that dilutes, weakens, or blurs the meaning of your sentence. This apple is orange-red with patches of green!

Think of it this way: If your character is holding an apple and you need to describe it, it’s either red or it’s not. It isn’t kind of red, or slightly red, or almost red. It might be red with yellow flecks, or a pale red that deepens along the base, or a Granny Smith and therefore bright green.

But almost red? Nearly red? Yes, the reader can visualize it, but the wording is weak.

Here’s another example:

“It felt a little warm outside.”

We talk this way to each other when someone asks about the weather, but in a book? It’s ambiguous and doesn’t state anything concrete. Instead, try writing:

“It was warm outside.”  Or a variation on that theme (maybe something that isn’t quite so bland…).

See what I mean about making concrete statements? As soon as the qualifier slips in there, the meaning of your sentence becomes diluted.

Here are some of the most common qualifiers to look out for:

  • nearly
  • almost
  • a little
  • kind of
  • sort of
  • just
  • seemed
  • only
  • rather
  • slightly
  • …and so on…

There are others, but once you know what you’re looking for, it’ll be easier to pinpoint them and hit that DELETE key!

Exceptions to the rule would be: character dialogue; purposeful speculative statements (ie. on what another character is thinking, doing, etc.).

Are there other qualifiers that you tend to overuse?

I use them all the time… it’s probably one of my worst offenses in first drafts (and I’m willing to bet ‘probably’ is my most overused qualifier, to boot…)!

This entry was posted on Friday, September 17th, 2010 at 5:53 pm and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 comments so far


Qualifiers are the first words to go when I’m revising. As I was reading your post I wanted to add that in dialogue they are okay, but you stated that toward the end. In dialogue they tend to add authenticity.

September 17th, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Agreed! In a lot of cases, dialogue would feel stilted and awkward without qualifiers, since that’s how we tend to talk. I think they can also be used creatively to distinguish the speech patterns of different characters.

September 17th, 2010 at 6:18 pm

“Little” is often the bane of my existence. It’s one of the words I have to used Find and Delete for after I’m done with a draft.

September 17th, 2010 at 7:05 pm
Kay Tee

I almost think you are probably right :-) Yeah, even in real life they’ve got to go!

For my novels, I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to find all these “weak words”. It sure beats searching for each one individually with Word!

September 18th, 2010 at 2:03 am

Yep, good post!

September 18th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I used a tool to count each word in my novel. The word “eyes” was amongst the top five >.< It's a good idea to keep your writing in check.

I also tend to use "quite, rather, a little, and honestly" a lot. And "and"! My manuscript was packed with "and's". I'm working on fixing this ;)

September 24th, 2010 at 8:24 am

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