A better way is to make such responses generic. Basically, you make an instead statement apply to the entire kind (category) of things or action you want the message to apply to.
Instead of burning something, say "[The noun] can't be burned."
Instead of cutting something, say "You have no tool with which to cut."
Clarification: Those two statements are enough to cover every object of the “thing” kind in the entire game. So as long as you’re burning or cutting something and want a general response, those two lines would be enough.
(It’s probably better to use the Custom Library Messages extension for generic “You can’t take that” type responses, though, and the next release of Inform 7 reputedly provides better ways of handling default messages.)
Instead rules are powerful, as are all rules, but you don’t need many of them to create far-reaching effects. Rules let you create a behavior and then override it when you need to. As a general idea, if you’re printing the same statement in two separate Instead rules, you’re probably using one Instead rule too many.
For instance, this:
Instead of taking the tea cup: say "You don't want it."
Instead of taking the sugar lumps: say "You don't want them."
Instead of taking the spoon: say "You don't want it."
Instead of taking the pot: say "You don't want it."
Instead of taking the sugar tongs: say "You don't want them."
…could be condensed into this:
[code]Include Plurality by Emily Short.
Instead of taking something (called the item), say “You don’t want [it-them of the item].”[/code]
Since all the items (the tea cup, the sugar lumps, the spoon, etc) are instances of the thing kind, this rule covers all of them as well as every other thing in the game. By the same token, you can generalize actions:
[code]Cutting is destructive behavior.
Attacking is destructive behavior.
Burning is destructive behavior.
Instead of destructive behavior, say “No, that would damage [the noun].”
Instead of destructive behavior when the noun is a person, say “How barbaric!”[/code]