Renee Writes

What’s Wrong with Adverbs?

NoAdverbsWhen you decide to become a serious writer, one of the things drilled into you from the start is use adverbs sparingly, especially the –ly ones. Yes, I did that on purpose because I find it funny that we’re told to limit our use of adverbs with the use of an adverb. At first, I was really paranoid about using them. Then one day I realized, I didn’t even know why we’re supposed to avoid them. I started asking people and the most common answers were “they make your work look amateurish” and “that’s how it’s always been done”.

Not good enough.

When I am told not to use something in my writing, I want to know why it’s considered amateurish and why it’s always been done that way. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, people do it because someone decided one day he or she didn’t like adverbs and forced their view on everyone else around them. From there it became doctrine.

The fact is, language and how we use it changes so often, rules like this need to be questioned once in a while. If people don’t have a good reason for those rules, or don’t even remember why they were established in the first place, maybe it’s a good sign it’s time to change and move on. So that’s what I did.

The dictionary meaning of an adverb is a word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb (and sometimes whole sentences), expressing manner, place, time, or degree. In other words, just like adjectives color the meaning of a noun, adverbs add color to the meaning of other words, or even phrases, within your sentence. They are an essential building block of the story.

I think the biggest advantage to using them is they cut down on the tendency to be too wordy in an attempt to make your writing more visual. For instance, you can say your character smiled sweetly, or you can give a long drawn out description so your readers understand the emotion or motivation behind the smile. I believe readers, in many cases, appreciate short and to the point descriptions, especially when it’s interrupting good dialogue and/or action.

Now just as with adjectives, you can go overboard with adverbs. If you can remove it without changing the meaning of your sentence, then do so. Or if you can reword your sentence in a way that eliminates the need for the adverb, but doesn’t require an enormous amount of description, go for it! Otherwise, why worry about your –ly count? Chances are most of your readers will never notice, and those who do are probably writers and editors who have been taught you should only use them sparingly.

Here’s a good article I found on How to Eliminate Adverbs written by Grammar Girl. It helps to distinguish between a helpful adverb and one that doesn’t need to be there.

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2 Comments

  1. 5 August, 2016    

    I’ve often wondered about the negativity associated with using adverbs as well. As long as they are used with moderation, I have no problem with them. Thanks for pointing to Grammar Girl’s article. I’ll check it out.

    • 5 August, 2016    

      You’re welcome. I’m the same. I don’t even notice them when they’re not used often, but when they’re used too much I get really distracted by them. It slows my reading. I’ve been reading my daughter a book (published by a big five imprint no less) that is full of them. It had three in one paragraph alone (and we’re only half-way done with the book). I keep tripping over them and my daughter thinks it’s funny that I can’t read. :-O

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