Concrete & Sensory Language

Concrete Language is the use of language that appeals to tangible ideas and the readerssenses (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) as opposed to figurative language or abstract language.


Concrete & Sensory Language is the meat and potatoes of clarity. Language that refers to intangible or immeasurable qualities can obscure meaning. Concrete & Sensory Language is the antonym to vague language and generalizations.

Of course, there are occasions when the subject matter of your text is unavoidably complex and abstract. For instance, peer reviewed literature published by academic journals and university presses can be exceedingly dense and difficult to read. However, even in the most technical document, simplicity remains a highly prized element of style. Simplifying complex content is the daily burden of knowledge workers . . . in our information society.

How can a sentence be revised to include more concrete language?

When communicating, people assess their rhetorical situation. They engage in rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning. We do this all of the time, tacitly, even if we are not aware we are doing it. Rhetorical Knowledge is grounded in habits and social conventions. For instance, if you were trying to explain why you chose a particular topic to study or why you want to work in a particular profession, the words you would use, your diction, would vary depending on your audience. When interviewing for a job or admission to an academic program, you would use formal language. You’d speak in sentences, avoid hyperbole and vulgarities, and you’d give the detailed contextual information abouts your past achievements in relation to the job or academic program. In contrast, when speaking with friends and family, you’d use informal language: you wouldn’t detail your past accomplishments. You’d probably speak in partial sentences and there might be a lot of dialog.

  • 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.