Word Choice Makes All The Difference

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado
on Unsplash

Words. We have a choice. There are over 470,000 English words to choose from according to Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Most English speakers rely on 20,000 - 30,000 to communicate verbally. Writer's may expand their word usage a bit more with the help of a thesaurus.  

Whether speaking or writing, thinking about word choice and the message we want to convey is important. 

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Word choice matters when giving directions. Have you ever been lost and stopped to ask directions and felt more confused after the person explains? Even worse, you ask directions and two or three people try to help you at the same time. 

Words are powerful and once uttered cannot be retrieved. Word choice can enhance or destroy a relationship. Have you ever thought, I didn't mean what I said?

In the words of Yehuda Berg, "Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble."

We all start out not knowing any words. As infants, we vocalize sounds. Eventually, those sounds become words. Later, those words can be strung into phrases and sentences that humans utilize for communication.  

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When we communicate in writing, we have the option of revising before we publish. I consider this an extraordinary opportunity to look at my word choice. Do I really mean he was a nice guy or can I describe my hero more vividly?   

I've taught writing for more than twenty-five years to a broad range of learners--from children as young as eight to grown-ups in their seventies. One of the areas I always emphasize, once that first draft is done, is to look at word choice. Is it a small dog or a ten pound poodle? Would she walk or saunter or march out of a room?

I'm reminded of an episode of Friends when Joey wants to support Chandler and Monica by writing a letter to the adoption agency. Joey struggles with the writing until Ross shows him how to access the online thesaurus. Naturally, the resulting letter is hilarious because Joey used the thesaurus to replace almost all of his original nouns and verbs. He had no idea about nuance. 

In writing, word choice can make the difference in a book that is well received and a book that flops.

"My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see." Joseph Conrad

Interested in learning more about word choice? Join us for an online writing class on Saturday, March 27. Strategies to Jump Start Your Writing 



  1. Very thought provoking. I love words, written and oral. More so, I love the thought process that is involved in description and dialogue. Wishing you well with your class. I hope you have many sign up for it.

    1. Kristin and I taught this class in July and had positive reviews, so we were invited to teach it again. I do love how we can portray characters through dialogue.

  2. Absolutely true. The writers I love the most leave me with vivid images that never fade. One of my many favorites is James Crumley: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." I can smell the air, the beer, the dog, and feel the afternoon slipping away. And if I ever get a bulldog, you know his name.

    1. What a great sentence! Thanks for sharing it. Is this the first line in a book? I do wish I were better at first lines...

    2. It is the first sentence/first paragraph of Crumley's book, The Last Good Kiss.

    3. Thanks Ruth. I'm going to put it on my TBR list.

  3. Excellent observations and points. I didn't realize how many words were in the dictionary. Thanks for your tips.

    1. You're welcome. I was surprised by the number of words we use regularly.


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