Better than great: alternatives to today’s most overused adjectives

31 Oct 2017

In business, yesterday’s elevator pitch is today’s 140-character tweet. Executives are all trying to communicate key messages with an eye toward brevity. But that doesn’t mean that people should default to repeating overused adjectives: The practice degrades the message and reflects negatively on the speaker. With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the most commonly used adjectives today with a few suggested alternates for each.


Overused word: Huge

Instead of sticking to your favorite four-letter word, you might want to try replacing a “huge” or two with what you really mean. If you are, for example, referring to something physically large, opt for the equally-four-lettered “vast” or the more-descriptive and statelier-sounding “towering.”

If you’re using “huge” in the way teenagers use the word “epic,” why not elevate your descriptor to something like one of the following:

  • Bold
  • Crucial
  • Far-reaching
  • Historic
  • Meaningful
  • Pivotal
  • Vital

Overused word: Great

“Great” is so overused that it’s a shadow of its once-great self, and “great” followed by another “great” can be downright grating on the nerves. (Even typing “great” at this point has lost its luster. It starts to read as though it rhymes with “treat,” but it’s not one. Not one at all.)

What to do when you’re in need of a great-like modifier? There are so many possibilities!

Is your “great” really a “big” in disguise? In that case, opt for “enormous,” “lengthy,” “extensive,” “high,” or just flat-out “large.”

If your “great” refers to something you like or are passionate about, look for a less watered-down option that also has some validity to it. Instead of “great,” it might be “well-reviewed,” “award-winning,” “esteemed,” “laudable” or “rare.” You might even get a chuckle or a few points in the personality department by referring to a new product or service more informally – talk about your news as “crackerjack,” “wicked cool” or “the cat's pajamas.”


Overused word: Terrible

Truly terrible events justify something better than the now-meaningless “terrible,” and events that are merely “upsetting,” “distressing,” “startling” or “unexpected” should be deemed as such. When referring to the former, give a truly sad situation the words it deserves by using something like:

  • Agonizing
  • Deplorable
  • Dire
  • Disastrous
  • Disgraceful
  • Grim
  • Heartbreaking
  • Intolerable
  • Joyless
  • Mournful
  • Reprehensible
  • Sickening
  • Tragic
  • Wretched


Overused word: Terrific

The not very terrific list of synonyms for “terrific” includes the aforementioned “great” and “huge.” Combine the three together to create a trifecta of blah, or opt for something more. In place of “terrific,” try one of the following:

  • Astonishing
  • Awe-inspiring
  • Beautiful
  • Choice
  • Desirable
  • Grand
  • Exceptional
  • Exemplary
  • Magnificent
  • Sterling
  • Wondrous


Overused words: Really and very

Mark Twain advised, “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.” We feel the same way about “really.” The truth is, there’s always a word for what you’re trying to communicate without having to resort to “very” or “really.” For example, instead of “very colorful,” use “vibrant.” Instead of “really fast,” use “breakneck.” Or instead of “very tall,” use “majestic.”


Did you know?

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, so there’s almost always a less overused word to use.



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Tags: Branding, Advertising, marketing tips, social media, words