Dec 30, 2009

Writing Wednesday - ADVERBS!

According to Wikipedia, an adverb is described as:

An adverb is a part of speech. It is any word that modifies any part of language other than a noun (modifiers of nouns are primarily adjectives and determiners). Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives (including numbers), clauses, sentences and other adverbs.

Adverbs typically answer questions such as how?, in what way?, when?, where?, how? and to what extent?. In English, they often end in -ly. This function is called the adverbial function, and is realized not just by single words (i.e., adverbs) but by adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses.

An adverb may be a sentence element in its own right:

They treated her well.

Alternatively, an adverb may be contained within a sentence element (here part of the subject element):

An extremely tall woman entered the room.
But, according to every writing expert and editor I've ever encountered it's a SIN!

Over and over I hear people tell me NO "LY" WORDS, so I try to stay away from them as much as possible, but dang it, sometimes I just have to slip one in to satisfy my adverb fetish. I mean, how else can you say, "'Stop!'" John said angrily."? (Okay, I totally didn't know what to do with that question mark. Am I good or what?) And to answer your question, there are other ways of writing that sentence. For example, show it in the action.

John slammed his fist against the car door. "Stop!"

Here you've solved two problems. You've gotten rid of the adverb and you no longer need that tag because John is doing the action before the dialogue. You've also made it more interesting to read. Here's another one:

Bill tightly clenched his fists.

Okay, first of all, clenching your fist actually means "to make a tight fist," so you don't need "tightly". This is an easy fix. Just leave it out. This is also a common mistake among writers, describing things that don't need to be described. For example:

She ran swiftly.
Tami whispered quietly.
Bill yelled loudly.

These are all redundant adverbs. You don't need them.

While I agree that adverbs are overused, I also think there is a place for them in writing, but only if used sparingly. (yep that was an adverb and I think it was used correctly) However, I do have to admit that there are a lot of famous writers out there who have made the adverb their best friend. JK Rowling is one of them. Stephanie Meyer is another. Does that mean they are bad writers? Perhaps, but they sure sell a ton of books and have made a lot of money.

Stephen King said, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs." A little harsh, but I think he got his point across. Strunk and White urge writers to avoid "cluttery, annoying" adverbs. For the most part, I think the annoying modifiers added to dialogue tags are what irritate people the most. "he said cautiously" or "she said bravely". Those kinds of adverbs drive me nuts too.

So, for those of you who LOVE adverbs, here's your chance to let them flow quickly and smoothly from your keyboard. Rewrite this sentence using as many adverbs as you can.

I ate everything on my plate.

Go for it. Write a sentence or two or three in the comment section that is flooded with them. What did you eat? How did it taste? Use all your senses and if you want to change it to 3rd person, go for it. Make us so sick of adverbs, we never want to see them again.

Then when you go to write on your work in progress, leave them OUT.

And just for fun, here is a word search for those who didn't quite get them out of your system.


  1. I hungrily ate each deliciously prepared morsel on my hastily prepared plate.

    Yep. I'm sick of them all right. =P

    This post was good fun, Christine!

  2. This is a fun post! I agree that adverbs can be used, but not often. I noticed J.K.'s use of them and it bugs me a little, but not enough to make me stop reading her of course. It is interesting trying to think of times when adverbs would be appropriate. I was thinking about your examples of dialog tag adverbs and you could say, she whispered loudly, because you don't expect people to whisper loudly.

  3. Christine! You are so cute! LOL! Yep, gotta love adverbs! Thanks for posting this and clearing up all of may adverbly adverb concerns!