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Replacing General Nouns with Specific Nouns

Minilesson Print

Replacing General Nouns with Specific Nouns

Illustration of sleeping dog
© Thoughtful Learning 2015

Get the name of the dog. These words of wisdom are passed down to writers of all ages, even professional ones. Specific nouns do a better job of telling a story than general ones do. For example, "Max, a golden retriever, curled up comfortably on his favorite sofa cushion" paints a clearer picture than "the dog curled up comfortably on his favorite spot."

A specific noun is a word that names a certain person, place, thing, or idea. Replacing general nouns with specific ones will make your writing clearer and more vivid for your readers.

Person Place Thing Idea
General girl spot dog fashion
More Specific neighbor planet golden retriever clothes
Most Specific Kate Vincent Mars Max tuxedo

When you revise your writing, search for general nouns and replace them with specific ones. Here's how one writer improved her paragraph by replacing general nouns with specific ones.

Original:

The war stretched to different states and down across the border. The war began in the northeast corner of Mexico, in a dispute over the border of Texas. The president sent a general and 3,000 men to march from one river to another, taking over disputed areas in the process.

Revised:

The Mexican-American War stretched from Texas to California and down to Mexico City. The war began in the northeast corner of Mexico, in a dispute over the border of Texas. President James Polk sent General Zachary Taylor and 3,000 soldiers to march from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande River, taking over disputed territory in the process.

Your Turn Fill in the missing spaces in the chart with more specific nouns than the ones that come before them.

Person Place Thing Idea
General famous figure body of water toy fun
More Specific musician game
Most Specific

From page 104 in Writers Express

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