Expanding Sentences With Adjectives and Adverbs

And Advice on How to Use Descriptors in Your Writing

Black cat sitting on windowsill
Katrina Baker Photography/Getty Images

Descriptive words in writing add details to a scene or action by making the imagery in it more precise for the reader to visualize. For example, sentences with a person waiting patiently or nervously for something to happen probably lead to very different paragraphs or stories. Maybe it's significant in a mystery novel that something happens by a stone wall rather than a clapboard wall. 

Descriptors can also add layers of meaning to a scene, or set up metaphors, with just one word.

A character with Victorian sensibilities gives the reader a very different feeling than one with punk attitudes.

Adjective and Adverb Exercises

Instructions: Add to each sentence below by filling in the blanks with any adjectives and adverbs that you think are appropriate and correct.

Example:
Original: The _____ cat rested _____ on the windowsill.
Expanded: The old black cat rested fitfully on the windowsill.

Of course, there's no single set of correct answers to this exercise. Simply rely on your imagination to expand the original sentences, and then compare your new sentences with those created by your classmates.

For additional practice, go through the exercise sentences multiple times. See how many different ways you can make them read and notice how the different adjectives and adverbs change the mood of the scene or the gravity of the situation (or increase the hilarity of the image if the adjectives and adverbs are a little bit off-kilter).

For example, it's a very different feel in No. 14 if an imposing teacher spoke gruffly to the boys in the hallway or whether it was a kindergarten teacher speaking comfortingly to the boys in the hallway. 

  1. One _____ afternoon in July, I walked with my cousin to the petting zoo.
  2. Under the rickety old bridge lived a(n) _____ witch.
  1. Gertrude waited _____ for the Lorax to arrive.
  2. The mouse in our kitchen was _____ small.
  3. My sister heard a(n) _____ noise coming out of the closet in her bedroom.
  4. The children laughed _____ when they saw what their uncle had brought them.
  5. Dylan received a(n) _____ smartphone for his birthday.
  6. We heard _____ music playing in the _____ apartment next door.
  7. The _____ puppy fell off the bed, but _____ he wasn't hurt.
  8. A(n) _____ man walked _____ up and down the room.
  9. The twins were playing _____ in their _____ playpen.
  10. The _____ wizard watched _____ as Rico became more and more upset.
  11. The _____ playground was filled with _____ leaves.
  12. A(n) _____ teacher spoke _____ to the boys in the hallway.
  13. The bells of the _____ church rang _____ in the clear winter air. 

Avoid Overuse

One caveat: When you're writing, be careful not to overstuff your sentences with adjectives and adverbs, or else the sentences (and the reader) will get bogged down in the detail. Placing the perfect adjective or adverb in the best possible spot will be more memorable to the reader and draw more attention to the detail than having an overabundance of description. If your sentences are hitting overload with descriptors, change your verbs.

Instead of ​walking stealthily, maybe the person slunk around the corner. All in all, never be afraid of revision, which can bring out the best in your writing.