Writing Tip: Concrete Instead of Abstract

“Concrete” means something you can experience with your senses: you can see, smell, hear, taste, or touch it.  “Abstract” describes an idea, thought, or feeling–something you can’t use your five senses to describe.

Concrete words are always stronger than abstract words in writing. You could stand on a soapbox in the park and say: “I hate all injustice! It’s wrong! We must end it!”

Or you could get on that soapbox and say: “Bullies stink! All bullies should be forced to eat headlice!” Which do you think will make people stop and listen? Which will make them yawn?

Let’s look at the first speech. How many abstract words can you find? (Here, I pause while you go and count the words. Go on, count them!) Did you find at least three? Hate, injustice, wrong and end are all vague abstract ideas. You can’t see, feel, hear, taste or touch them.

Now read the second speech again and count the concrete words. (I mean it–go count them! I’ll wait for you.) Bullies, stink, eat, and headlice are all concrete words–much stronger than those vague, wishy-washy, abstract ones.

Here are some abstract words:

Nouns: education, health, wisdom, happiness, peace, freedom, equality, patriotism, fairness, hunger, poverty, love, divorce, wealth, democracy. (Can you add to this list?)

Adjectives: good, bad, nice, fun, sad, unfair,  stupid, smart, silly, strange, normal, nasty, patriotic. (Any more?)

Here are some concrete words:

Nouns: school, teacher, student, friend, mother, dog, jail, bully, football, ice, sun, thief, cement (concrete!), hot dog, graffiti, breeze, cocoa, flag, frown, scowl, smile.

Adjectives:moldy, curly, sharp, soft, salty, bitter, grey, gritty, shrill, circular, puffy, smelly, tough, stringy, stingy.


For older students: Try writing a paragraph about something you hate or love, anything you feel strongly about. Here’s the challenge: Write it without using any abstract words.

For younger students: play a game of Mad Libs. Divide into several teams. Half of the teams must fill in the blanks with concrete nouns/adjectives and active verbs, while the other half must use only abstract nouns/adjetives and passive verbs. Which makes better writing?

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: