What’s the one word that’s ruining your copywriting?

What’s the one word that’s ruining your copywriting?

I’ll keep this short and simple.

There’s one word you’re using in your writing that’s spoiling everything.

I’m sorry to tell you this but it’s making you look as thick as a bag of hair.

Or that your grasp of the English language is a little limp.

Are you ready to find out what it is?

Are you sure?

Are you VERY sure?

The word you should stop using right now is (drum roll please….):


Yep, the innocuous little V word should be stricken from everything you write moving forward.

And here’s why…

English is a rather verbose language when compared to some others. According to Language Monitor there are over a million words in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary has a definition for over 600,000 words and apparently our lovely language is growing at a rate of around 25,000 words a year.

Over the years English has evolved to meet the needs of its speakers. English has worked hard to reinvent itself, to expand, finesse and remove.

If a word doesn’t exist we create it.

If a word isn’t precise enough we qualify it.

For example we no longer need to say ‘wiggle your backside up and down at a fast pace’ now that we have ‘twerk’.

It’s like Eskimos with snow

You’ve heard the old myth that Eskimos (or the Inuit and Yupik people to be exact) have over 100 words for snow. Well the same is true of many English words.

There are heaps of synonyms** for any given word.

So it seems a big fat hairy shame to use phrases like ‘very happy’, ‘very good’, ‘very important’ in your copywriting, when you have so many other options to choose from. Am I right?

Hang on, let’s just confirm what ‘very’ means

Okay, so VERY is an adverb meaning to a high degree, extremely or exceedingly. For example:

“The piglet is very bouncy.”

Although it’s used to magnify a verb, adjective or another adverb it lacks precision. It can actually confuse readers.

And it used to be used as an adjective:

“Why my good Sir, this is the very hedgehog I’ve been searching for.”

But that’s a little obsolete and Dickensian these days so probably best avoided.

You’ll find that very adds little to your sentences (the same goes for really, quite and other intensifying words).

Try writing the sentence without them and see how it improves.

I’m all for readability and ensuring your writing can be understood by your target audience, but that doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down.

Try elevating it occasionally with a sumptuous synonym!

50 ways to avoid using the word ‘very’

We all have our bad habits when writing (mine is excessive use of the word ‘that’) and it’s easy to fall into bad habits.

Why not print off and use this list of words to replace very for the next 30 days and see you can break those bad habits.

The list below is, of course, just simple examples (and many depend on the content).

If you have other, better synonyms to suggest why not comment at the bottom of the post.

Click to download this VERY awesome PDF

Synonyms for Very

If you must use very try to limit it to once per 1000 words and then replace it with one of the following:

Absolutely, acutely, amply, astonishingly, awfully, certainly, considerably, dearly, decidedly, deeply, eminently, emphatically, exaggeratedly, exceedingly, excessively, extensively, extraordinarily, extremely, greatly, highly, incredibly, indispensably, largely, notably, noticeably, particularly, positively, powerfully, pressingly, pretty, prodigiously, profoundly, remarkably, substantially, superlatively, surpassingly, surprisingly, terribly, truly, uncommonly, unusually, vastly, wonderfully.


Over to you

What are your pet writing hates? Do you use very excessively in your copy? Do you have any good alternatives to suggest?

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* Adverb

A word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb. They can be used to:
Describe how an action is done:

She gently caressed his buttocks,

To show where or when an action is done:

I need a curly wurly now

I like to buy my hedgehogs locally

To modify an adjective:

Your shoes look cheap and nasty

** Synonym

A synonym is a word with the same or similar meaning of another word, such as ‘buy’ and ‘purchase’, ‘big’ and ‘large’.



  • Janet Hillis

    Yes! The old Mark Twain quote comes to mind: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your
    editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

    • Well touche to that lady, so touche that I actually posted a meme of just that on TwitbookgoogleIn today!

  • stressymummy

    Brllliant! I know I am guilty of overusing very and every now and then I work hard to stop and then soon slip back into the old habits. I am going to print that sheet off, thank you

    • Hey thanks for ready stressymummy! Glad it was helpful.

  • bravenewmalden

    I can’t think of any occasion when I’ve used the word ‘very’ in my copy. I’d only consider it very rarely (oops! DYSWIDT?) But if a piece of writing cries out for that word and that word only – in an ironic context, perhaps? – then I’m not going to ignore it.

    I’m not too keen on ‘rather’, as in ‘English is a rather verbose language’ but again, if that’s the word that sense and meaning require, I’ll pick it.

    • Well of course. But the post wouldn’t had had quite the same impact if I’d gone with a title like ‘The one word you can never use (except sometimes if you need to)”.

      And ya boo to your dislike or ‘rather’ – I makes me sound cleverer no?

      Seriously though – as long as the word works for you and your audience and you haven’t used it 10 times on a page, the all good. It’s all about stopping and finking and stuff.

      Thanks for reading BraveNewMalden!

  • Sorry Kate, I guessed wrong. I thought the culprit was going to be ‘I’.

    Nevertheless, you’re still defo right about ‘very’.

    Having said that, I would still say ‘very sad’ rather than ‘morose’ (see Dead Poet’s Society example) – because I’d much rather go for the simple and more natural lingo any day.

    But then again I was never ever any good at wooing women with words.

    • Well you see I’m awesome at wooing women – there’s the difference.
      As I said to BraveNewMalden about – of course very has a place – but not very often.

      I like simple too, but I think we can stretch our readers occasionally to move beyond the monosyllabic. No?

      I guess as long as we’re writing at a level our readers understand and enjoy – that’s what matters.

      Thanks for stopping by old chum.

      • Lucky you Kate – my two attempts at wooing women with words both catastrophically blew up in my face.

        Sure, those words had both girls tinkly all over with romantic excitement. But they just didn’t sound anything like they were from the person they thought they knew.

        And so, to my downfall, they thought they’d come from somebody else.

        • It’s never a good idea to get girls tinkly all over

  • Belinda Weaver

    Bloody super post Kate!

    I’d love to share it as an essential reference for my Copywriting Master Class students.

    • Ah thanks lovely lady – yes that would be fabby, feel free!!

  • Brooke Billett

    Umm I just like your adverb examples. Whilst shrieking for curly wurlys a rabid gleam in her eye, she gently caressed his buttocks. He found her peculiar foraging habits and pig-like grunts *very* hedgehog-like, and more than a liddle bit freaky.

    • Now that is the intro to a story I want to read!

  • Is it a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions (or just *very* wrong) that I get even more of a kick out of the comments on your blog posts than I do out of your *very* helpful … um, educational … enlightening blog posts?

    • How very dare you!! Yes I have some fine commentors, I recruit them carefully. Now you are one of them. Welcome!!

  • Glad to have inspired a post Ms Toon?!
    Great post, though I still think there’s a place for the dread word in stories for small persons. After all, where would we be without The Very Hungry Caterpillar 😉

    • Why of course. The whole point is audience – if it fits then once and a while is fine.
      BTW you didn’t inspire – it’s been written for a while but you did prompt the posting. xx

  • Fabulous article! I’m always amazed at how losing just one word can make a text more solid. Another favourite phrase of mine to delete is ‘I think/believe/feel’. Everyone knows that’s the case anyway and you always come across as more confident when you don’t qualify every statement (though there are always exceptions to the rule!).

    • Thanks for your comment Marie. I like your point about ‘I feel’ etc – I use it sometimes to qualify – so that I’m not saying THIS IS HOW IT IS, but rather this is how it is for me. I guess it’s often about how confident you feel – some days are better than others!

  • Devin Peterson

    You’re title lured me in and I was honestly expecting a disappointing read.. but I came here anyway and I’m glad I did. Here’s another check I can add to my writing review cheatsheet. Eliminate ‘very’. Done! And thanks 🙂

    • @devinpeterson:disqus – ah your comment has made my day. Yes it’s a super click baiting headline, but I wanted to be sure I delivered some value for that click. Thanks for your VERY kind words.

  • Ooh, Kate … I agree with removing ‘very’ unless absolutely necessary, but I think you’ll have trouble removing it with an adjective. By all means, it should be *struck* from everything we write that is stricken with this blight.

    Happy to accept referrals for my professional pedant services :p

    • 🙂 Thanks for reading – love me a pedant.

      • It’s a dirty job, and something I’m trying to give up!