Songwriters have composed lyrics about loving arms, lying eyes, and cheating hearts. But can arms love? Can eyes lie, or hearts cheat?
As used above, loving, lying, and cheating are opinion adjectives. They express the personal bias of a character or the narrator—a bias that may not be shared by everyone.
Imagine two judges at a dance competition. Judge A considers one dancer the best “danseur” since humans learned to walk. She describes him as fantastic, talented, and brilliant. Judge B, however, disagrees and refers to him as bumbling, amateurish, and clunky.
If narrative originates from Judge A’s point of view, readers will be positively influenced. But their opinions will be negative if Judge B’s POV is represented.
Writers often rely on opinion adjectives when referring to sentient beings. These adjectives might describe personalities or actions. They frequently anthropomorphize body parts.
Unfortunately, they have the potential to confuse point of view by revealing facts that a character of focus can’t feel or know.
Let’s review an example.
Kayla turned away. Max’s adoring eyes followed her seductive sashay. She responded with a supercilious curl of the lips.
Many editors would prefer adoring gaze, insisting that body parts such as eyes shouldn’t perform independent actions. However, readers will understand that Max adores Kayla and thinks she is seductive.
But are Kayla’s lips visible to Max? She’s walking away from him. If he could see them, would he interpret her expression as supercilious? The stereotypical male is clumsy at reading body language.
This example represents omniscient point of view, but modern readers and editors prefer first person or limited third person POV.
Kayla’s lips puckered into a sexy pout. She turned away. Max’s adoring gaze followed her seductive sashay.
Now readers will see an enamored Max, with no indication of Kayla’s reactions to his feelings. Is her pout truly meant to be sexy, or is she perhaps aggravated, exasperated, or impatient? Context can reveal her motivation.
Does double-double work? Or does it flop?
Consider the following phrases pulled from the next section.
Do you see a problem?
Study the phrases again after reviewing the following definitions.
Two-time [verb]: to be unfaithful; to deceive
Dote [verb]: to adore, idolize
Lament [verb]: to mourn; to wail
Glower [verb]: to have an angry look on one’s face
Each phrase at the beginning of this section performs a double-double, starting with an opinion adjective that provides the same connotation as the word it modifies.
I’m not saying never include such phrases, but be aware of when and why you want them in your writing. If they suit your literary voice, go for it.
And be prepared for a tongue-lashing from some editors.
Words to Watch
The following words, when modified by opinion adjectives, provide nonspecific visuals—a good reason to avoid them. However, they might serve a purpose if you’re aiming for an atmosphere where the reader invents every mental image:
Attitude, behavior, body language, conduct, expression, face, feelings, gesture, look, manner, mood, nature, tone, et al.
What does amused body language look like? How about an angelic expression? Or a coquettish gesture?
A few opinion adjectives that modify people, their facial expressions, body parts, actions, or traits:
Eyes, fans, gaze, public, smile, spouse, suitor
Gaze, glance, grin, interest, response, smile, surprise, twinkle in the eyes
Back, body, feet, heart, muscles, pain, void in one’s stomach, wrist
Aura, dimples, glow of one’s face, sweetness of temper
Agitation, cry, exclamation, eyes, face, feelings, glance, glower, growl, mood, pacing, reprimand, roar of the crowd, scowl, shout, tears
Disregard, indifference, liar, sneer, thief
Heart, flirt, gigolo, good-for-nothing, louse, parasite, sneak, two-timer
Fluttering of the eyelashes, grin, laugh, ploy, smile
Act, affection, evasion, eyes, kiss, promises, smile, tongue, vows, wiles
Grin, insult, jeer, laugh, remark, snort, stance
Exclamation, gaze, glare, noise, shake of one’s head, stare, voice
Beauty, charm, enchantment, honesty, personality, smile, wit
Adoration, affection, attention, demeanor, hugs, kisses, lover, worship
Beauty, body, charm, demeanor, figure, lips, physique, wiggle
Eyes, hunger, resentment, squint, thirst, urge, yearning
Chuckle, eyes, fingernails, heart, intention, leer, malevolence, malice, smile, spirit, thoughts
Actions, banter, comeback, comments, compliment, dare, glance, hello, matter, pickup line, remark, signals, smile, touch, vibe, voice, wave, wink
Admiration, affability, compassion, friendliness, heart, smile
Abandon, animosity, antagonism, conversation, grimace, hostility, jealousy, oppression, rancor, tyranny
Desire, eyes, fingers, gaze, heart, kiss, lust
Aloofness, body odor, cough, disdain, disregard, habits, jokes, noises, question, rash, voice
Anger, curl of the upper lip, fear, fury, lover, passion, pout, retort, snort, suspicion
Anger, bias, brows, eyes
Brute, caress, creature, disease, embrace, itch, jerk, kiss, varicose veins
Bride, contralto, couple, curls, ears, eyes, lass, neck, shoulders, smile, vibrato
Arms, embrace, eyes, gaze, hug, nuzzle, smile, whisper
Eyes, kindness, kisses, manipulation, schemer, vanity
The Writer’s Lexicon and The Writer’s Lexicon Volume II.
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Ex, greed, mouth, nose, witch
Bully, denunciation, glare, grip, growl, laugh, protest, reproach, shove, voice
Cry, dirge, eyes, howl, lament, pleasure, retreat, seclusion, silence, wail
Accusation, bits, cough, habit, headache, heartache, laugh, retort, suggestion, taste, temper
Arrogance, criticism, determination, deviousness, leadership, love, narcissism, partner, supervision, swashbuckler, voice, will
Appetite, cheeks, ears, eyes, grunt, nose, snort, snout, snuffle
Affectations, arrogance, eloquence, hairstyle, jerk, know-it-all, posturing, pretention, windbag, wiseacre, yawn, zeal
Comeback, frankness, grunt, regard, remark, reply
Air, curl of the lips, disapproval, hypocrisy, narcissism, pragmatism, smugness, speechifying, veganism, windbag
Appeal, back, beauty, cleavage, eyes, glance, instinct, laugh, legs, lips, murmur, narcissism, physique, pout, purr, sashay, sensuousness, sway, voice, whisper
Arrogance, conceit, condescension, pomposity, pride, sniff, superiority, upturn of the nose
Flicker of the eyelashes, grin, leer, lift of one eyebrow, nod, pose, posture, remark, wink
Foreign accent, gaze, growl, lashes, purr, smile, updo, voice
Assumption, boasting, cunning, curl of the lips, grin, lift of the brow, snobbery, snort, superiority
Allure, aura, breath, disposition, docility, gaze, kiss, nature, scent, selflessness, smile, sorrow, voice
Affection, caring, eyes, glance, kiss, love, neck, possessiveness, sensitivity, smile, sympathy, tears, thoughtfulness
Birthmark, disposition, feet, gash, heart, knees, knuckles, mole, motive, mug, scar, snarl, tattoos, thoughts, wart, zit
More opinion adjectives:
Accepting, adaptable, adventurous, affable, affectionate, agreeable, aggressive, amateurish, ambitious, amiable, amicable, amoral, amusing, antagonistic, anxious, argumentative, arrogant, astute, audacious, awesome, awful, awkward
Bad, bad-tempered, beautiful, belligerent, benevolent, best, better, big-headed, bizarre, bland, blunt, boisterous, bold, bombastic, boorish, boring, bossy, brave, brilliant, broad-minded, brutal, bumbling, businesslike
Cantankerous, carefree, charismatic, childish, clever, clumsy, coarse, comfortable, compassionate, competent, compliant, conceited, confident, considerate, contentious, courageous, cordial, corrupt, courteous, cowardly, creative, crooked (dishonest), cunning
Daft, daring, debonair, decisive, degenerate, delectable, delicious, dependable, despicable, determined, devious, difficult, diligent, dim, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, disgusting, doleful, droll, dynamic
Easygoing, eccentric, efficient, egotistical, emotional, empathetic, energetic, enigmatic, enthusiastic, envious, erratic, excellent, excitable, extraordinary, extreme, extroverted, exuberant
Fair-minded, faithful, fallible, fanatical, fantastic, far-sighted, fearless, fickle, flexible, focused, foolish, forceful, forgiving, formal, forthright, foul, frank, free-thinking, friendly, frugal, fun-loving, funny, fussy
Gallant, gauche, genial, generous, gentle, genuine, glamorous, gloomy, good-natured, gracious, great, greedy, gregarious, grim, grumpy, guileless, gullible
Harebrained, hardworking, haughty, hedonistic, helpful, helpless, heroic, high-handed, high-spirited, hilarious, honest, honorable, hostile, humble, humorous
Idealistic, impartial, immature, immoral, impolite, important, impudent, impulsive, indecent, independent, industrious, insensitive, inspired, intense, interesting, introspective, introverted, intuitive, inventive, irresponsible, irreverent
Keen, kind, kind-hearted, kinky, kittenish, knowledgeable, knuckle-headed
Lascivious, lazy, lecherous, lewd, liberal, libidinous, likeable, logical, lovely, luscious
Magnanimous, mature, maternal, mawkish, mean, meddlesome, mediocre, meek, mellow, mercenary, messy, methodical, meticulous, miserable, miserly, mistaken, modest, moody, morbid, mouthwatering, mystical
Naïve, narcissistic, narrow-minded, nasty, naughty, nauseating, needy, negative, neglectful, neurotic, nice, nihilistic, noncommittal, noncompetitive
Obnoxious, obsessive, odd, offensive, off-putting, old-fashioned, opinionated, opportunistic, optimistic, orderly, organized, outrageous, outspoken, overconfident, overwhelming
Passionate, patient, peculiar, perceptive, perky, persevering, persistent, pertinent, pessimistic, philosophical, plucky, polite, popular, practical, pragmatic, pretty, proud, prudent, prying, pugnacious
Quarrelsome, queer, quick-tempered, quick-witted, quiet, quirky
Randy, rational, raunchy, realistic, rebellious, reckless, reflective, reluctant, remarkable, repellant, repulsive, reserved, resourceful, responsible, responsive, restrained, retiring, reverential, revolting, romantic, rude
Salacious, scrummy, self-centered, self-confident, self-disciplined, selfish, sensible, sensitive, sentimental, serious, shady, shameful, shocking, short-tempered, shy, silly, sincere, smart, smutty, sociable, soft (lenient), sophisticated, spineless, splendid, stern, stingy, strange, stroppy, strict, stupid, suave, straightforward
Tactless, talented, talkative, tasty, taunting, temperamental, tenacious, testy, thoughtful, thoughtless, tight, timid, tolerant, torrid, tough, tractable, transparent, treacherous, truculent, trusting, trustworthy
Unaggressive, unambitious, unassuming, unattractive, uncomfortable, uncouth, unctuous, understanding, unethical, uninhibited, unkind, unpretentious, unprincipled, unrealistic, unstable, upbeat, uptight, urbane, useful, useless
Vacuous, vain, valorous, valuable, valued, venal, venomous, versatile, vindictive, virginal, virtuous, virulent, vitriolic, vituperative, vivacious, visionary, vital, volatile, vulgar, vulnerable
Warm-hearted, wasteful, weak-willed, weird, whimsical, willful, willing, wimpy, windy (long-winded), winning, wise, wishful, witty, wonderful, worse, worst, worthless, worthy
Yappy, yellow (cowardly), yielding, young-at-heart, yummy
Zaftig, zany, zealous, zesty, zingy, zippy, zonked
The Writer’s Lexicon and The Writer’s Lexicon Volume II.
Available in both digital and print editions.