EDITING KNOWHOW Mindful modifiers


Are you really sure you absolutely know how to use modifiers in your writing? 

SCBWI's Claire Watts is here to help.

We use adjectives to modify nouns and adverbs to modify verbs and adjectives. Of course, you know this already – you’ve known it since primary school. But how often do you stop to think about the modifiers you use and exactly what they’re adding to your writing? 


Here are some tips to help you tighten up your writing style when you’re editing your work.


Look at qualifiers and intensifiers

Qualifiers and intensifiers are words that change the intensity of other adjectives or adverbs, such as very or a bit. We use them all the time in speech, but they tend to have the effect of muffling the quality of the adjective or adverb being used in writing. When you’re self-editing, make a list of the qualifiers and intensifiers you use and then do a global search for them. Ask yourself if you really need them. Will the adjective or adverb stand on its own? Can you replace with a different word that contains the quality plus the intensity?


I was a bit nervous  I was nervous or I was apprehensive

The house was really creepy  The house was creepy or The house was petrifying


Qualifiers and intensifiers to check for:






a bit





sort of

kind of



Look for vague modifiers

What exactly do the modifiers you use convey? Some adjectives are too vague to tell the reader what you want them to know. Do you need to say quickly or slowly or suddenly? Is there a way that will draw a better picture in your reader’s mind? What about big or small? How big or small do you mean? In comparison to what? Beautiful? In what way? Allow your reader to discover that what you are describing is beautiful through your description.

The exception of course is if you’re using deliberately simple language in a picture book or early reader, where the illustrations will be doing much of the image-making work for you.



Look for stacked modifiers

If you have two or three adjectives or adverbs together – the silent, cold, creepy library – ask yourself if they are all needed. Generally, the more there are, the less impact each one has. If they’re all necessary, try to find a different way to convey the information that gives each one more value.


There are always exceptions to guidelines, but make sure that if you do veer away from them, you have solid reasons of style for doing so.

*Header image: Clément Falize on Unsplash


Claire Watts is a writer and editor of fiction and nonfiction for children. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @evangelinecluck.



Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 

Got an idea for KnowHow, or a subject you’d like to hear more on? Let us know at knowhow@britishscbwi.org.

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