Words on Writing: Q & R

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A structure-class word or phrase (very, such, so, fairly, a bit) that precedes an adjective or adverb and supposedly either increases or decreases its degree: very hot, a bit shovel-weary. (Qualifiers that increase the degree are called intensifiers.) Qualifiers rarely add value. Hot and shovel-weary work better alone.

See also filler word. For more, see the chapter “A Modern Take (Is Take a Noun?) on Parts of Speech” in Word Up!

relative clause

A dependent clause that modifies (and, typically, directly follows) a noun or noun phrase. In I know the folks whose woods these are (apologies to Robert Frost), the dependent clause whose woods these are is a relative clause that modifies the noun folks. A relative clause starts with a relative pronoun.

relative pronoun (a relative)

A pronoun (that, which, who, whose, whom) that introduces a relative clause. In I know the folks whose woods these are (apologies again to Robert Frost), the word whose is a relative pronoun. It’s called a relative pronoun because it relates the clause (whose woods these are) to the noun that the clause modifies (folks). Some linguists call these words relatives, not relative pronouns, because in this role they are not substituting for nouns.

(The words identified here as relative pronouns may also play other roles, in which case they are classified differently.)

See also remote relative. For more, see the chapter “A Modern Take (Is Take a Noun?) on Parts of Speech” in Word Up!

remote relative

A relative pronoun that is positioned too far away from its antecedent. In Gunther finally dug up his potatoes whose field almost froze before he got around to the task, the word whose is a remote relative—too far away from its antecedent, Gunther. Because whose follows potatoes, the field seems at first to belong to the spuds. Here’s one fix: Gunther, whose field almost froze before he got around to the task, finally dug up his potatoes.

For more, see the chapter “Touching Words” in Word Up!


A rhetorical device in which an idea is repeated in a series of synonymous phrases or statements. Here’s an example from the chapter “Explore and Heighten: Magic Words from a Playwright” in Word Up!: Those are the times … to expand. Build up. Pile on the voom. Restatement, like many rhetorical devices, creates emphasis. Pile on the restatement!

rhetorical device

A technique that a writer or speaker uses (alliteration, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.) to clarify, emphasize, persuade, delight, or otherwise engage the reader.

For a list of rhetorical devices covered in Word Up! see the long listing under “rhetorical devices” in the book’s index.

rhetorical question

A question that either can’t be or isn’t intended to be answered. A rhetorical question emphasizes a point while letting the writer’s voice come through. How many rhetorical questions do you suppose Word Up! contains?

run-on sentence (run-on)

A sentence that includes two independent clauses joined insufficiently. Run-on sentences come in two types: comma-spliced sentences (Max bent down, he heard his back snap) and fused sentences (Max bent down he heard his back snap).

Some run-ons serve a purpose, as when several short independent clauses form a unit (Max came, he saw, he ran for cover). Most of the time, though, a run-on sentence of either type reads better when punctuated with one of the following:

  • a period, semicolon, colon, or dash: Max bent down; he heard his back snap.
  • a coordinating conjunction preceded by a comma: Max bent down, and he heard his back snap.
  • a conjunctive adverb preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma: Max bent down; simultaneously, he heard his back snap.

For more, see the chapter “Running On about Run-Ons” in Word Up!

A-Z page

This is not a list of all words about writing—you’d be scrolling all day. These definitions evolved while I was writing Word Up! I enjoyed what I learned and wanted to share it.

Get the full glossary and more in the book: Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)

Last modified: December 14, 2012

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