Monday, February 4, 2013

Adverbially Speaking

In the last year or so, two adverbs have crept into common English usage: "famously" and "arguably." One cannot read a column or news article without seeing them. "As Shakespeare famously said..." or, "Julia Child, arguably one of the world's best..." Any day now I expect to see "George Washington, arguably the first American President..." Both words add nothing to any sentence in which they are used.
As writers, especially for children, we are told to eschew adverbs. "Very, really, simply, wholly, completely, extremely, sincerely, strongly, happily, lately, rather, quite, almost..." All of these words tend to blur or weaken the action, something to be (strongly, ha ha) avoided.

However, to prepare for the revision of an existing manuscript, I have been collecting adverbs. Certainly not "famously" or "arguably," but words such as "wheezily, stupidly, crazily, nosily, cowardly, hungrily, drunkenly, sourly." I need these words to enliven the condition of the action. Without them, my sentences are dry, like warm toast without butter.


  1. Linda,
    Adverbs are tricky, though, you have to make sure that what the adverb tells us is the best way to say it. Example: someone could throw something and you wouldn't need any adverb to tell us they were angry.

  2. I once did a writing exercise in which I took out virtually every adverb in my piece. I was surprised to see how much stronger it was without the adverbs. That said, well-placed adverbs can add bit of spice, just so long as they don't overpower the underlying 'flavor' of the story.

  3. We all have our pet hates. For me it's "literally"--when it's not really literal!

  4. Sometimes an adverb is the perfect word choice. But overuse of adverbs can make for some very purple prose. I don't worry about them much in first drafts, but in revisions, I'd rather edit in some juicy similes, metaphors or actions that deepen character and strengthen voice in ways no adverb can.