Use Concrete, Sensory Language

The Difference between Abstract and Concrete Terms

Abstract terms are those words or phrases that refer to idea or group of ideas that do not have a physical presence; concrete terms refer to those words and phrases that refer to something of substance or a physical entity.  Both types of terms have their purposes.  Abstract terms, for example, may invite readers to make interpretations and form their own opinions.  Concrete terms generally have one specific meaning and are generally more specific.

Why should abstract terms be replaced with concrete, sensory terms?

The goal of a writer is to communicate ideas clearly. Since language that refers to intangible or immeasurable qualities can obscure meaning, abstract terms should be replaced with concrete terms. Language that connects with tangible and sensory (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) is easier for readers to understand and relate to.

Beware Sign GeneralizedHow can a sentence be revised to include more concrete language?

  • Replace abstract terms with words that have clear, direct, and precise meaning.
    • Abstract: The case sought to establish equality for people of all sexual orientations.
      • Equality can mean a variety of things to different people: What does equality mean in this instance?
    • Concrete: The case sought to legalize gay marriage.
  • Use language that appeals to the senses.
    • Abstract: The waiting room was unpleasant.
      • What makes this setting unpleasant? Replace this term with specific descriptive language.
    • Concrete: The waiting room was cold, antiseptic-smelling, and crowded with sick people who were coughing, groaning, or crying.

Imagery in writing is very effective because it appeals to your five senses (you should be familiar with some, if not all of them).  It can help you convey your message while giving your readers a point of reference (something they can experience for themselves).

Please view the following video on Imagery (Miss C’s Imagery Video)