Thompson Rivers University

Using Descriptive Language

April 13, 2015

Have you ever become so engrossed in a book or story that you can almost smell what the character is smelling or feel what they are feeling?  This happens when the author has made good use of descriptive language.

You too can inspire your readers in this way with a little understanding of how descriptive language is used.

The four most common forms of descriptive language are adjectives, adverbs, similes, and metaphors:

Adjectives are words that describe what you can sense about a noun including sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and emotion.

For example, an elephant eating grass could be described using adjectives as follows:  The huge (sight) elephant sat in the warm (touch) sunshine contentedly (emotion) crunching (sound) the sweet (taste) fragrant (smell) grass.

Adverbs are words that modify verbs.  They give more information about the verb by indicating “how” and “when”.  Some examples of adverbs are smoothly, destructively, always, very, today, and yesterday.

Similes are phrases that use the words “like” or “as” to describe a noun by comparing it to another noun with similar characteristics.  Examples:

  • The floor tiles were as cold as ice.
  • She was quick like a bunny.
  • The night sky was as black as coal.

Metaphors are phrases that describe several characteristics of a noun by comparing it to another noun. Unlike similes, metaphors do not use “like” or “as” and are more difficult to create.  Examples:

  • She is more of an idea person (than a strategic one).
  • Life is a journey.
  • I am drowning in homework.

Because descriptive language can be a powerful tool, it is important to use adverbs and adjectives only when they will add impact without distracting your reader from what you are trying to convey. Have a look at our previous blog post on Overusing Adjectives.

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