Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Adverbs are our Friends (Part I)

Supposedly, Mark Twain once said, “The adverb is the enemy of the verb.”  Most of the writing advice you’ll find online will echo that.  But when used properly, adverbs add color to language and make writing more interesting. 

But first, what mistakes have caused such animosity to this major part of speech? 

1) Overusing a favorite adverb.  If you (or your proofreader) notice you habitually use an adverb that adds nothing to your writing, e.g., realistically, probably, mostly, etc., then stringently avoid said adverb.  Keep a list by your computer of certain words to avoid. 

2) Piling on.  Beginning writers might add adverbs like really or very, thinking this strengthens the writing.  Strip away useless modifiers and see how much cleaner the writing looks. 

3) Using an ordinary verb and adverb, instead of a more particular verb.  This is the hardest lesson in trimming adverbs, requiring a good amount of thought to make a positive change.  Instead of writing “He walked quickly to the door,” use “He strode to the door,” or “He minced to the door,” whichever fits best.  Instead of writing “She sat lazily in the captain’s seat,” use “She sprawled in the captain’s seat.”  Instead of “The water splashed heavily onto my book,” use “The water spattered my book.” 

Are we good so far?  This should match all those online forums that tell you to trash most adverbs, but develop some discipline in avoiding these beginner's errors, and we can move on to reversing all three of these rules for certain effects, and then on to adding color to the language using adverbs.  

1 comment:

Chris Thompson said...

Good post. I tend to agree. Sometimes adverbs also add something to the rhythm of the writing, but I have noticed some people do overuse them. I think your advice is spot-on.


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