Specific language covers three ranges of styles known as concrete words, abstract
words, and general language. Specific language refers to objects or conditions that can be
perceived or imagined. Concrete words describe qualities of immediate perception and abstract
words refer to broader less palpable qualities (diction refers to qualities that are rarefied and
theoretical). General language signifies a broad classes of persons, objects and phenomena. In
practice, poems that use specific and concrete words tend to be visually familiar, and compelling.
“But by contrast, poems using general and abstract words tend to be detached and sharp,
regularly dealing with universal questions or emotions”. (Polking, Writing A to Z, pg. 124). All
writing of any sort has to be done in one of these 3 types of language; concrete, abstract or
general, and so they are very important to fictional writing.
Concrete nouns name things that we can perceive throughout our senses, for example:
your friend, Canada, the brain. If you say “Ice cream is cold”, the word cold is concrete
because it describes a condition that you can feel, just as you can taste ice cream’s sweetness
and feel its creamy texture in your mouth. “The time it takes to understand a sentence is
generally shorter when the sentence is concrete rather than abstract.” (Klee ; Eysenck, 1973).
“People respond faster to concrete than to abstract sentences in meaning of classification tasks,
in which meaningful and abnormal sentences must be refined, which requires a judgment of the
truth value of a sentence.” (Holmes ; Langford, 1976). It has also generally been found that
subjects both encode and retrieve concrete words and sentences faster and more completely
Abstract nouns name qualities (friendship, heroism) or concepts (the province,
management). If we describe ice cream as good, we are abstract, because good is far removed
from ice cream itself and reveals no descriptive information about it. A large number of things
may be good, just as they may be bad, fine, cool, excellent, and so on. “The context-
availability model suggests that abstract words are more difficult to process because associated
contextual information stored in memory is more difficult to retrieve than for concrete words.”
General nouns apply to a class of things (pets, buildings) rather than to a single, specific
things (my cow, the CN tower). General nouns keep your reader at a distance. Specific refers
to words that bring to mind images from the real world. “My dog Rex is barking” is specific.
General statements refer to broad classed, such as ” All people like pets” and ” Dogs make good
pets.” “The ascending order of generality from 1) very specific to 2) less specific to 3) general,
and so most pieces of writing employ mixtures of words from these 3 categories.” (Stewart and
Kowler, Forms of Writing, pg. 67) Therefore, poets interweave their words to fit their situation
In conclusion, these 3 forms of writing draw general observations, abstract conclusions
from specific situations and concrete responses, so overall they compliment each other. “Clear
exact writing balances abstract and general words which outline ideas and objects, with concrete
and specific words, which sharpen and solidify. Abstract and general words are useful in the
broad statements that set the course for your writing, but the sentences following these would
have to develop the ideas with concrete and specific ideas.” (Stewart and Kowler, Forms of
Writing, pg. 63). The evidence that the grasp of abstract and concrete words differ provokes
one to consider how the literal pictures for these word types differ.
1) Polking, Kirk. WRITING A TO Z. Cincinnati, Ohio:Writer’s Digest Books,1990.
2) Roberts, E.V. and Jacobs, H.E. LITERATURE. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998.
3) Stewart, Kay L. and Kowler, Marian E. FORMS OF WRITING. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc., 1991.