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Using Adjectives in a Descriptive Essay

-- 2014-10-21
In my class we’re working on descriptive essay topics, and one problem I have is with adjective use. My teacher says I use too many adjectives. I mean, it’s a DESCRIPTIVE essay! Can you give me an example of when I should and shouldn’t use adjectives in a descriptive essay?
-- 2014-10-22 
This is a very good question, and the answer would depend upon the actual topic. For example, if one were writing about the Mona Lisa, one might say she has "a wry and inviting smile." In this case, the adjectives are working to interpret the work, and it is difficult to get around using them. However, if one were trying to describe election politics, one could say that they are crass or cynical. In this case, again, there is an interpretation, but it may imply a kind of bias or predisposition. On the other hand, you might want to more objectively describe the election politics at work and evaluate the sides without interjecting adjectives that imply an interpretation. This is something to balance carefully, and I would say that you should use adjectives, and especially -ly adverbs, very carefully and for a specific purpose. There are different modes of description to think about. One could describe narratively what happened in a moment without going too far into subjective language (i.e. "Obama swaggered to the microphone and held it up to his timid lips before he delivered his speech."). Clearly the writer here would be implying something about his or her view of the speech already in the description. I think you would want to avoid this kind of thing and rather focus on describing the thing as it is, as best you can see it, while being aware of how an adjective can really alter the tenor of a sentence.

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