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  • Writer's pictureM.C.

Adverbs - The Ostracized Part of Speech

In talking with many authors, opinions regarding the adverb run deep and strong. Many tout the “get rid of ‘em!” philosophy while a few favor the “save the adverb!” approach. While I understand the positions of each camp, I admit that I agree with the idea that the fewer adverbs the better. In critiques, I have been challenged on this position with the fundamental question “Why?”

I have two main reasons. Let me explain.

First, while I have no moral issue with adverbs, I do find a preponderance of them tiring to read. They slow me down as I try to apply them to the story I’m reading. I know what each adverb means, most of the time anyway, but I don’t know what the author means when they use it. Do we have the same definitions? I want to spend my time in the character’s head, not the author’s—those can be very dark places!

Second, I consider adverbs a bit of a crutch. They are an easy out. Anyone can write “he said vehemently” or “she walked quietly.” Those phrases get the ideas across, but there’s no flair, no excitement. I enjoy authors who take the time to turn it up a notch and provide more detail: “He yelled at the top of his lungs, the veins in his neck straining to burst under the pressure,” or “she sneaked across the room, her socks sliding on the polished hardwood as she darted from shadow to shadow.”

Sometimes adverbs are great as placeholders—I’ll throw in an adverb that gets the idea across while I’m focusing on putting a first draft down on paper. Then, I go back and replace those adverbs with better descriptions, perhaps even including a simile or metaphor to convey the idea in a unique way.

Finally, I will say that it’s nearly impossible to eliminate adverbs altogether. (See what I did there?) In some situations, an adverb simply works best. (I did it again.) But, as automated writing aids like Grammarly (Irony?) or ProWritingAid suggest, keeping adverbs to a minimum improves the quality and professionalism of the writing.

In short, ditch the adverbs in favor of prose that is more engaging, more descriptive, and more representative of you, the author.

Agree with me or think I’m reacting unjustly? Let me know in the comments.

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