That’s right bring it on! Who started this war? Twitter. Well, actually it was tweeting captain at Writer’s Digest. See, a couple days ago they tweeted,

“Remove all the adverbs from your writing. Yes, even the ones that really work.”

If you’re as big a smart ass as I am, you see the flaw in this tweet (besides the stupid advice). My response to this tweet:

“I like how the anti-adverb tweet uses an adverb.”

This earned a handful of favorites and one response that said:

“just an example of how if the adverb is removed nothing is lost.”

As you know from my writing advice post, I disagree.

See, if Writer’s Digest was simply using “really” in that tweet, well, that just makes them look dumb, which I hope they’re not because I just started a subscription to the magazine. But if they were using “really” ironically, well that’s different and kind of funny. This proves that adverbs do have their place in writing.

Using = You look dumb and like you’re not following you’re own advice.

Using ironically = I’m entertained at WD’s wry humor.

Adverbs are not this evil entity that needs to be eradicated from the planet (that would be Monsanto). They have their function and, used properly (see how that adverb had a purpose?), can give readers a clue as to how to interpret a statement or actions.

Instead of banning the adverb, think of using it as you would salt. The right amount of salt added at the right time enhances a dish, but too much salt will leave your diners gagging and never wanting to eat your food again. Same with adverbs, unless you’re trying to do an homage to Stephanie Meyer (whose every other word seems to be an adverb). Using them with a light hand and placing them at the right time will enhance your writing, too many adverbs will have your readers rolling their eyes, not wanting to read your work again and probably gagging too.

The thing adverbs can do is allow you to use a common verb, and improve it. Yes, you could go delving into your thesaurus for a fancy verb that hones in on the same idea, but personally I think overloading your work with confusing, little used verbs makes your work less “accessible” to readers. I would much rather read “the man laughed heartily” than “the man guffawed.” What the hell is a guffaw? It sounds like some type of shore bird.

How do you know when an adverb isn’t needed? Read the sentence without the adverb. If you’re still getting the same message across, dumb the adverb so you can use one elsewhere with more impact.

So, join me in my battle to take this stigma away from adverbs. Show they are useful in writing by using them sparingly, correctly and, yes, even ironically. Go forth my troops and take your adverbs with you!

What’s your opinion on adverbs? Let others know your passion or distaste for these poor little words by commenting below.

5 thoughts on “The War on Adverbs. Bring It On!

  1. Good post. It’s a fine line to walk between over-adverbizing and over-thesaurusizing. I personally enjoy a writer who can employ nice meaty verbs now and again without tripping over them. Too many adverbs tastes watery and bland (especially intensifiers). Too much, and you feel like you’re reading literary cubism or something, it gets dense and confusing. Your analogy about salt is a good one. Use sparingly. Know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.


  2. I agree that adverbs are fine and sometimes necessary. However their abuse should be avoided as it pollutes the prose with unintential alliteration – “lylylylylylyly” – and, as you inferred by recommending that authors use a more appropriate verb, simply lazy. I happened to pick up a copy of Twilight and was shocked at how many adverbs Meyers uses on one page. Some are simply bizarre:
    murmur shyly
    frown impatiently
    ask significantly
    amend quietly
    … and other physical challenges.

    And the pleonasm – I nearly choked at the [insert favourite adverb here] when I saw “slosh wetly”. How else should something slosh? 🙂


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