Intensifiers and Qualifiers
There are certain things in writing that should be avoided wherever possible, such as clichés, passive sentences or info dumping, but there are two things writers should also look out for, which are intensifiers and qualifiers.
But what are they and what do they do?
Intensifiers and qualifiers are words or phrases that can be added to another word to modify its meaning, by either limiting it or enhancing it. They are placed before adjectives and adverbs in an attempt to intensify or modify its effect, but unless they’re a part of dialogue and form the way a character might speak, intensifiers and qualifiers can weaken the writing if overused, or make it look lazy and amateurish.
A qualifier can change the meaning of a verb by limiting it, and so it changes how absolute or certain something is, for example:
‘She was somewhat flustered by his invite.’
In this example, the word ‘somewhat’ is qualifying the word ‘flustered’ and it creates doubt about any certainty. It has changed the aspect of the sentence, but I you look at the sentence, it is not necessary to qualify it. ‘She was flustered by his invite’ is adequate and absolute, and so it doesn’t need that modification.
It’s common to use qualifiers in writing, because the way we write often reflects the way we speak in everyday situations. We use qualifiers all the time when in conversation. But for fiction, try to avoid overusing them, unless you want to create a sense of uncertainty with the reader, for example:
John was sometimes late for meetings – This tells us John isn’t that punctual on some occasions. Now compare it with an absolute:
John was late for meetings – There is no uncertainty here, John is a bad timekeeper.
The most common qualifiers are: somewhat, sort of, rather, occasionally, sometimes, possibly, most, slightly, hardly, basically, essentially etc.
She was most upset.
He possibly should have stayed quiet.
He was hardly an expert.
He found it rather concerning.
Intensifiers, on the other hand, are adverbs that have the opposite effect of qualifiers, because they can enhance the meaning of the words or phrases that they modify, rather than limit them - it tells the reader about the intensity of another word and they can be positive (absolutely, totally, extremely etc.) or negative (seriously, never, at all etc.). The most common intensifiers are absolutely, completely, extremely, strongly, highly, rather, really, so, too, totally, utterly, very, at all etc.
As an example, I’ll use the same example as previously for the qualifier, but this time as an intensifier.
‘She was totally flustered by his invite.’
The word ‘totally’ gives a positive emphasis to the sentence – it intensifies the word ‘flustered’, but even so, it’s not necessary within the sentence, which is why they should not be overused.
One thing with intensifiers is that sometimes writers double intensify. This is when they use two intensifiers to emphasise something within the sentence, for example:
She worked very very hard on her exams.’
He was totally, utterly shocked.
As with double adjectives, avoid using double intensifiers because it not only do they weaken the sentence structure, they also make your writing look amateurish.
Check through your manuscript and try to see just how many qualifiers and intensifiers there are. If you can weed them out during editing stage, your sentence structures will be stronger without them.
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