- Language level: upper intermediate and advanced / B2 and C1
- Skills: Vocabulary, speaking
- Time needed: 10-20 mins
- Focus: advanced English vocabulary; synonyms & adjectives
Learn how to avoid using 'very' in English
Today I want to show you how to expand your advanced English vocabulary and express what you truly want to say using a variety of different words and expressions – all avoiding using ‘very‘!
I’m going to give you about 8 words that you can add to your vocabulary today and that you can use in social situations, small talk or at work. I’ll use clear examples and as always I’ll give you an activation challenge, so that you can put into practice these new words in a context that is meaningful for you.
What's wrong with using 'very'?!
Let me PLEASE start this lesson by telling you that there is nothing wrong or incorrect about using the word ‘very’ … native speakers use it very often (you see what I did there – haha!). We use it for emphasis and when we try to be descriptive. If that is the case, you may be asking, well, why should I avoid using very? I learnt this word in grammar books and I hear it on TV …
The point is we overuse it. It’s a lazy way of speaking … and when you use it too much, what you are saying loses impact, power .. and can sound boring and uncreative.
Those of you who know me, maybe you’ve done lessons with me, or you follow one of our instagram accounts, you’ll know that I’m passionate about teaching native–level vocabulary, about getting out of the textbook English you may have learnt at school, and really start focusing on building up a sophisticated vocabulary knowledge base. Because with this skill, you can speak better, understand better, write better – and basically just get a lot more enjoyment out of this amazing English language.
This is something that we’ll constantly work on in our membership programme, Proficiency Project and you’ll also see in the blog section of English Digital Academy, there’s a whole block dedicated to advanced English vocabulary. So make sure you have a look around our digital school and I’m sure you’ll find resources that are extremely useful if building vocabulary is something that’s important to you.
And avoiding using VERY too often is one of the ways you can learn how to speak in a more powerful and interesting way.
So let’s get to it!
Simple vocabulary versus impactful vocabulary
Compare these statements and I want you to think about which one is more interesting and powerful?
“Hi Kerin! How are things?”
“Hey! So, so! It’s been a very difficult week. I’ve been very busy and I’m very tired. I can’t wait for the weekend!”
“Hey! So, so! It’s been a hectic week. I’ve been run off my feet and I’m worn out! I can’t wait for the weekend!”
Which phrase do you prefer? Very difficult, very busy, very tired – these words are basic and they probably don’t express how you really feel. In the second phrase, the vocabulary is impactful and creative and more interesting in conversation and when you write.
If I tell someone I’ve had a very difficult week, the picture I’m painting isn’t very clear. I’m not explaining anything, it’s vague. It could have been difficult because I’d had some bad news or I didn’t have my dog sitter that week or I had too many things to do.
Instead, saying It’s been a hectic week – bam! I’ve given you a clear and powerful description using just one word. Hectic means full of frantic activity. So it was a difficult week for me in that sense.
Or I could have said It’s been a challenging week – boom! Another impactful description. I could have had a challenging week because my dog sitter was away on holiday and so I had to juggle my schedule.
Let’s compare I’ve been very busy with I’ve been run off my feet: again the second phrase conveys a much stronger image in my head. If I say I’ve been run off my feet I’m explaining that I’ve been exceptionally busy, and I’m implying that this busyness is to an exhausting or exasperating degree. Whereas I’ve been very busy, well we’re all busy, who isn’t busy?! It’s banal and loses power.
And lastly, I’m very tired compared to I’m worn out – it’s the same thing. Worn out is describing exhaustion and weariness. I may be tired after a long day of work or because I’m concentrating on something, whatever makes me tired. And if you say I’m tired, it means I want to go to sleep. Whereas if you say I’m worn out, it means you have zero energy, it’s not something normal … it’s due to the crazy hectic week I had.
When we avoid using very we can provide more descriptive pictures and better stories
Let’s imagine another situation: Jane finally got a promotion last week. She’s been aiming at this promotion for about 8 months and she got it over 3 other candidates. What could Jane say in this situation?
I’m very happy about the promotion – blah. Happy is something that makes you feel good, obviously. I feel happy when I get my 20 minutes alone in the morning to read through The Guardian and have a quick peek on Facebook with a nice big mug of coffee, I’m happy when I get to do that. I feel good. It’s not a good enough word to paint the picture of what is going on with Jane. This is an achievement, a challenge … it does more than just make her feel good. She is happy, a million times over! Therefore, she could say something like:
- I’m thrilled about this promotion.
- I’m overjoyed!
- I’m over the moon.
- I’m absolutely delighted
All of these phrases mean extremely happy or pleased and you see, by replacing very happy with a stronger adjective, we get a much better picture in our mind.
For more examples of how we can use these phrases, click on the flip cards below:
Your turn to put all of this information into practice!
So you now know different words to replace:
- very tired, very busy, very difficult, very happy
If you look below you’ll find some graphics to help you and also there are more synonyms that you can study.
Select three or four words – these can be the words that I’ve spoken about in the lesson or from the graphics below, choose words you like, you like the sound, the feeling. Then in the comments, show me how you would use these words in your own sentence 👇
Think about a context that is meaningful for you, so think about your daily life, your work, your friends …. anything that makes sense in your world.
Practising English in this way is one of the BEST ways to learn new words. Putting it into something relevant will make your brain need the word and therefore it becomes easier to remember.
And one more thing to bear in mind, most of my advanced students know words like thrilled and delighted. They are not necessarily new words. But when you speak, you may be more likely to stay with the safer more comfortable ‘very boring’ words! And this is absolutely normal and it’s a habit. So creating your sentences is the first step to turning passive knowledge into active use.
Great, that’s it for today. Don’t forget, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for our newsletter to get all of our free lessons and guides right to your inbox.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time!