The Pope is allergic to adjectives

It was widely reported a couple of years ago that Pope Francis told the Vatican communications team not to use adjectives, saying: “I am allergic to those words.”

Ironically, the Pope’s own words include an adjective: ‘allergic’. Such jarring clashes between advice and practice are common when people dispense gratuitous advice on writing.

I used to hear similar things at work. Some people start with the sensible idea that we should remove unnecessary adjectives (and, indeed, unnecessary adverbs). But they take it too far by trying to eliminate all adjectives (and adverbs). Adjectives (and adverbs) serve a useful function—so long as they are not excessive.

Here’s a sentence where deleting the adjective (‘unnecessary’) would not only change the meaning, but destroy it completely. ‘Do not use unnecessary words.’

So here’s my advice to you. Do not use unnecessary adjectives (and unnecessary adverbs). In the preceding sentence, the adjective ‘unnecessary’ is necessary. Do not delete it.

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