Unusual Adjectives to Use in Your Papers


By Amanda Prahl

We’ve all been there: you’re writing a paper for a class, trying hard to demonstrate your mastery of the material, make a strong argument, and show your writing skills. You sit back to proofread… and realize you have somehow managed to use the same three adjectives in the entire paper.

Your vocabulary is an important part of any paper you write. The best bet is to walk the line between ordinary language that keeps your point clear, and unusual words that add specificity and show your mastery of language. When you’re proofreading a paper, it’s just as important to check for repeated simple vocabulary as it is to run a spelling and grammar check.

While most fields have jargon that can be used to demonstrate your expertise, these words are more often than not nouns. If you’re looking to expand your vocabulary in a way that can be applied to any paper in any discipline, your best bet is a different part of speech: the adjective.

Adjectives like good, important, and huge get used a lot, but they’re awfully generic. Let’s take a look at some adjectives you can use and how to incorporate them seamlessly into your own writing.


Definition: logical, clear, or convincing by virtue of its presentation

Use it for: Describing an argument, case, or theory (instead of “strong” or “good”)

Example sentence: The negotiators made their point with a compelling, cogent argument that convinced even the naysayers in the room.


Definition: self-evident, no need for a proof

Use it for: Something that is unquestionably true (instead of “obvious” or “necessary”)

Example sentence: It is axiomatic that germs cause disease, although humankind did not always understand this truth and instead subscribed to a wide array of quasi-scientific or superstitious explanations.

Also try: Innate or inherent, for something that is not learned (“I believe that kindness is innate in human nature.”)


Definition: unpredictable, likely to change without warning

Use it for: Describing something that’s hard to predict or that has shown a pattern of instability

Example sentence: Because of the erratic weather during the experiment, the instruments were unable to collect usable data.


Definition: lacking concrete definition

Use it for: Something that is hard to pin down or clarify precisely; something marked by a lack of clarity or precision

Example sentence: Although his speech was full of big ideas, the details on how he planned to achieve those goals were rather nebulous.


Definition: not adhering to a norm or expectation

Use it for: Describing something that breaks with the pack, often but not always morally or statistically (instead of “different” or “unusual”)

Example sentence: Aberrant behaviors, such as mood swings, may be an indication of a bad reaction to new medication.


Definition: lacking significance; foolish (usually with a connotation of complacency or insipidity)

Use it for: Something that is foolish or empty to a ridiculous degree; may be applied to living beings as well as concepts

Example sentence: The vacuous arguments they made betrayed their total lack of understanding of the situation at hand.

Each word suggested in the adjectives list above are unusual enough to add extra color to your paper, without being so obscure that they sound like showing off more than simply good writing. Continue to expand your vocabulary, and you’ll be impressing your professors in no time at all!

Grammar isn’t the only thing to think about: Did you create a bibliography or APA reference yet? Citation Machine helps you cite sources in thousands of citation styles like MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, and more!

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