Stephen King, a celebrated American fiction writer once said: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” English learners and writers are often advised not to use adverbs in their writing.
In this lesson, we provide a detailed guide and many different examples on what adverbs are, what can be wrong with using them, when you should not use them, and when it is helpful to add adverbs to your writing.
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Adverbs are words which modify the meaning of verbs, adjectives, or even other adverbs. They can change or qualify the word they are standing next to. Typically, an adverb will tell us more about the manner, time, place, or degree of something, answering questions such as how or where.
Adverbs usually consist of an adjective + ly (slowly, quickly, beautifully) but they can also contain endings such as –ward or –wise (forward, backward, otherwise) or simply keep the same form as adjectives (hard, fast, right).
Of course, some adverbs are not related to adjectives at all. Common words such as very, too, quite, and so are also adverbs.
When used in a sentence, adverbs are meant to give us more information about the word they are modifying.
This morning, Sarah ran quickly. (This tells us how fast Sarah ran.)
Are there any shops nearby? (This adverb gives us a sense of a place where there could be shops.)
I came to this office early. (In this case, the adverb helps us answer the question when.)
What Is Wrong with Using
Too Many Adverbs in Writing?
Show or tell?
Writers who use many adverbs are often considered to have weak writing skills because they do not follow the “show, don't tell” writing rule. This means that adverbs carry strong descriptions in themselves and, as such, they prevent the writer from expressing himself/herself clearly throughout the article.
In other words, using adverbs (e.g. angrily, foolishly, tirelessly, etc.) is a quick and easy way to tell how something happened.
In general, it takes more skill to write in such a straightforward, clear, and descriptive way so that the reader can independently understand that something was done foolishly or tirelessly without being told so through adverbs.
When Mark asked her to marry him, Naomi acted foolishly. => When Mark asked her to marry him, Naomi screamed, ran away, sent him a text message, and then came back and hugged him.
Adverbs become redundant when they do not provide any new piece of information about the word they are supposed to modify. In other words, they only confirm what the verb already describes.
This usually happens when they follow a strong verb that clearly conveys the matter or degree of the action taking place. In such cases, adverbs serve no purpose in writing and should be omitted.
She briefly glanced at her mobile phone.
In this case, the verb glance already tells us that the action was brief because it is in the description of the verb (glance means “to take a brief or hurried look”). For this reason, the adverb briefly should not be used.
We slowly and leisurely strolled on the sand.
In this case, too, the verb stroll means walking in a in a slow and relaxed way, without a hurry, so the two adverbs are redundant. There is no other way to stroll, so we do not need to stress that through adverbs.
Other times, the choice of adverbs used in a sentence is wrong because they do not convey any specific meaning at all. These are “empty” and overused adverbs which have no role in the sentence and can be eliminated in writing.
I am completely exhausted, so I really have to lie down.
The adverb completely does not modify the verb exhaust because it would be hard to imagine anyone who is only “partly” exhausted. In a similar manner, when a person has to lie down, this also shows how urgent the matter is, so it mayb be unnecessary to add really. Saying that someone really has to lie down does not make the need to lie down stronger.
When we rewrite the sentence without these two adverbs, we see that it has not lost its meaning:
I am exhausted, so I have to lie down.
I am very sorry that I totally forgot to call you! => I am sorry that I forgot to call you!
When John said he was going to quit his job, he literally meant it. => When John said he was going to quit his job, he meant it.
Andy makes sure everything is very perfect. => Andy makes sure everything is perfect.
It's important to note that sometimes such adverbs do add an important layer of meaning to the sentence:
I paid $500 for the ticket, so I am definitely going to the concert! Here the adverb “definitely” gives a needed emphasis.
When Should We Use Adverbs?
Although writers are frequently advised not to use adverbs, this is not a “black or white” writing tip. Adverbs can be redundant, but they can also be an important part of the sentences we write. You simply need to make sure they play a role in the sentence and do not act as empty fillers.
Adverbs are one of the four main parts of speech, together with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Each of them has a special purpose. We are able to construct sentences by putting these parts together, so when we omit all adverbs from our writing, we are unable to give important information about not just our verbs, but other adverbs and adjectives as well.
Adverbs are particularly useful if we are dealing with specific word counts. Of course, writers who have hundreds of pages to fill in can explain that someone “acted bravely” without using the adverb “bravely” by elaborating on the event in more detail. However, if you wish to convey a clear meaning and place your sentence in a particular context, adverbs are a useful tool.
Consider the difference between these two sentences:
You missed the train. => Clearly, you missed the train.
By reading the first sentence, we know that somebody missed his/her train. The narrator could be anyone – a ticket officer, a friend, a random passenger. The second sentence shows a degree of criticism.
The adverb clearly, when used in this context, can show some level of scolding or disapproval because the person missed the train. If the writer wishes to convey such a meaning then using adverbs is preferred.
Dana is an emotional person. => Dana is an overly emotional person.
In the first sentence, we learn that Dana is emotional, and this can be considered as either a good or a bad quality, depending on the reader. We cannot determine the narrator's opinion about it.
In the second sentence, however, it becomes clear that Dana is emotional to a degree that is considered to be “too much.” In such a context, we know that the narrator thinks negatively of it.
Tip: When You Use Adverbs,
Do Not Misplace Them
While it is important to use adverbs sometimes, it is crucial that they are not placed wrongly in a sentence. English learners frequently unintentionally misplace their adverbs. This can completely change the meaning of their sentence. If it is unclear what the adverb is modifying, the sentence can become confusing or be misinterpreted by readers.
Gareth and Bob only go to the gym on Sundays.
The adverb only is placed next to the verb go which suggests that only modifies this particular verb. In that case, readers learn that Gareth and Bob do one thing on Sundays – they go to the gym. They do not do any other activities.
Yet, this is wrong because it would be impossible to stay in the gym for so long and do nothing else. What the author was trying to say is that Gareth and Jim go to the gym on Sundays and no other days.
We should rewrite the sentence as:
- Gareth and Jim go to the gym only on Sundays. OR
- Gareth and Jim go to the gym on Sundays only.
Jackie goes to the countryside and visits her grandma rarely.
In this case, what Jackie does rarely is confusing. Readers are not sure if she goes to the countryside rarely or visits her grandma rarely, or both. That is why the sentence should be rewritten depending on what the writer is trying to say.
Jackie rarely goes to the countryside to visit her grandma. (We know that she does not go to the countryside often nor does she visit her grandma often).
Jackie goes to the countryside but rarely visits her grandma. (We know that Jackie visits the countryside frequently but does not visit her grandma often.)
Final Adverb Usage Tips
Eradicate adverbs. Strengthen your writing
March 7, 2016 by Erica Mills
Sometimes you stumble across something and you think, “That awesomeness needs more eyeballs on it!” That’s what we thought when we saw Andrew’s AdverbLess infographic. As you know from reading this blog, I’m a fan of adverbs myself. However, I completely concur with Andrew that you have to know how to use them. And that they often make your writing less compelling. Andrew’s tips will help make your writing wowerful!
No matter why you write, whether for business or a personal hobby, it’s important to produce content that is both interesting, and high-quality. To grab your readers’ attention, your text should be relevant to their interests and depict some useful tips and hints. Plus, it should be without mistakes.
Obviously, who wants to read a mediocre article? No one.
Well, writers can make different mistakes (spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.). Thus, a good writer tries to edit and proofread texts before publishing, and sometimes it’s hard to eliminate your mistakes, so using tools and apps is important.
To strengthen your prose, you need to be sure that every sentence is informative and makes sense, so being careful about using adverbs is a must.
What’s Wrong with Adverbs
An adverb is an important part of speech as it modifies verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and quantities. Adverbs may describe how, when, or where something happened and help readers understand the context completely. Although nouns and verbs give color to your writing, adverbs can make your prose better, but most writers don’t know how to use them.
Moreover, most people misuse adverbs and, therefore, make their prose weaker: most adverbs can be removed if you know how to find a more precise and descriptive verb/adjective/adverb.
One day, I decided to craft a tool to help people highlight their adverbs. The fewer adverbs you have, the better your writing is, and AdverbLess is ready to help you with it.
AdverbLess is a tool that is aimed at highlighting adverbs, so you can control adverb density and quantity. I’ve crafted a user-friendly website, so there is no need to write a guide on how to use it – just enter your script and press the button.
- Plus, I’ve made an infographic about the usage of the adverbs in the English language, so you can learn something new from it.
- Next time you need to analyze your adverbs, pay attention to this infographic to understand core pros and cons of using this part of speech in your writing.
- How AdverbLess Helps Writers
Although this tool is simple, it can improve writing skills if you use it correctly. It’s not enough to paste the text to polish your skills.
However, if you are careful about every highlighted adverb and you know whether it is worth removing or not, you can learn how to use the adverbs correctly in order not to weaken your prose.
Little by little, AdverbLess helps writers become more attentive about using this part of speech.
An adverb is a part of speech which is misused more often than not, so it’s important to learn all tricks about its usage. Don’t turn your solid ideas into mediocre writing: eradicate adverbs and become a better writer.
Learn how to use the adverbs
- don’t weaken your prose with the adverbs
- double check the text to find the adverbs to remove
- use AdverbLess for free
- revise your text several times
Have you ever thought about the role of the adverbs in your writing?
Andrew Howe is fond of writing, marketing, and languages. He runs AdverbLess as he believes this tool can help to improve writing skills.
Writing Tips: Abolish the Adverbs
Avoid adverbs: Are they running slowly or are they jogging?
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King
In the writing world, adverbs have a bad reputation for being weak and causing unnecessary clutter. But sometimes adverbs are necessary, and other times, they liven up a sentence or strengthen a description.
Today we’re going to explore adverbs and take a look at why they can be problematic.
Let’s start with a basic overview:
Adjectives and adverbs are modifiers. Adjectives modify nouns whereas adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs, adjectives, phrases, and clauses. In fact, an adverb can modify an entire sentence. This gives adverbs a rather large playing field; maybe that explains why they are overused.
For example, car is a noun and red is an adjective. Put them together and you get a red car. The word run is a verb and the word quickly is an adverb. Put them together and you get run quickly.
But run quickly is better stated as sprint.
There are plenty of adverb-verb combinations that are often best expressed with a single, more meaningful verb. For example, “driving fast” becomes “speeding.”
Favor strong verbs over adverbs
Adverbs are words that add color to verbs. In the sentence “The barista quickly made a cup of coffee,” quickly is the adverb.
Adverbs can be useful. However, they are often just used to support weak verbs. Use strong verbs instead. For example, use “roars” instead of “says loudly,” or “meanders” instead of “wanders aimlessly.”
Scan your writing for adverbs and ask yourself, “Is there a stronger verb I can use here instead?” Sometimes the answer will be no, but if the answer is yes, use it. Your readers will thank you.
But don't just take our word for it. Writers have recognized the dangers of adverbs for decades. Here are a few of the best quotes on the subject:
You can highlight every adverb in your text with ProWritingAid. Try our writing improvement software. Type or paste your text, then run the Summary or Combo reports to catch those adverbs.
If you want to search in a word processor such as Microsoft Word, you'll find that most adverbs end in -ly. Search for that followed by a space, or you can use ProWritingAid's Add In for Microsoft Word.
Your next writing tip: Improve Your Writing Tip #2: Don't hide your verbs… rejoice in them!
Have you tried ProWritingAid yet? What are you waiting for? It's the best tool for making sure your copy is strong, clear, and error-free!
How to Cut Out Adverbs and Boost Your Writing
Think back to your grammar lessons in elementary or middle school. At some point, you learned that a noun was a person, place, or thing, that an adjective describes a noun, that a verb describes an action, and that an adverb can describe a verb, an adjective, or even an entire sentence. Wow, you might have thought: Adverbs are awesome. They can do so many things!
I’m hear to tell you that they are not. Adverbs tend to weaken things. They turn a descriptive, engaging piece of a writing into a drab reading experience. If you’re using adverbs in your writing, you might be making it less effective.
You can think of adverbs as a writer’s cop-out. Instead of taking the time to paint a vivid picture for a reader, he or she is taking a shortcut by adding a word that ends in “-ly” (most of the time) to modify the verb. All isn’t lost, though.
If you make frequent use of adverbs when writing content, help is available!
How Do You Know You’re Using an Adverb?
First things first, it helps to make sure you know when you’re using adverbs. The “-ly” ending is usually a clear giveaway. Take this sentence for example: “The writer cried loudly when she found out that adverbs were off-limits.” “Loudly” describes the type of crying the writer did. It lets you know the way the writer cried, but it doesn’t do much else.
Not every adverb ends in “-ly,” those tricky things. For example, “well” is an adverb, as in “he did well on his test.” Adverbs can also modify adjectives, as in this case: “She didn’t enjoy the mildly flavored gaucamole.
” “Very” is another adverb that’s often used before adjectives, as in “the very tired girl took a nap.” Using “very” in that sentence doesn’t add much to it.
You already know that the girl is tired, because she’s described as such and because she’s taking a nap.
How Do you Stop?
You’ve seen the error of your ways and you want to eliminate adverbs from your writing, or at least limit their use as much as possible. There are several ways to trim the adverb fat from your pieces.
One option is to pick a more descriptive verb to use. In the example above, instead of crying “loudly,” the writer can “howl.” Another option is to use adjectives and nouns to describe what’s going on. For example, the writer could “cry, with tears streaming down his face, making a sound that echoed through the room, when he she found out that adverbs were off-limits.”
Write Without Adverbs
Adverbs are modifiers. They alter the meaning of words — verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and even whole sentences. Writers use adverbs to add color and refine meaning.
Examples of adverb use:
- Helen walked quickly to her next meeting. “Quickly” modifies the verb “walked.”
- She looked very comfortable in her knit dress. “Very” modifies the adjective “comfortable.”
- His stockbroker told him his investments were very steadily rising. “Very” modifies the adverb “steadily.”
- Unfortunately, we can’t make it to your wedding. “Unfortunately” modifies the sentence.
Many writers think of adverbs as the -ly words, but there are many without an -ly ending. Here are some common examples:
Afterward, already, almost, back, better, best, even, far, fast, hard, here, how, late, long, low, more, near, never, next, now, often, quick, rather, slow, so, soon, still, then, today, tomorrow, too, very, well, where, yesterday.
Adverbs have their time and place, but when you overuse them, they can weaken prose. Worse yet, misplaced adverbs confuse readers. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few ways to cut down on adverb usage to make your work clearer.
Trim Your Adverbs
You can teach yourself to minimize adverbs by recognizing the proper times to use them.
First, eliminate redundant adverbs that are unnecessary and repeat what the verb means.
Here’s an example: She smiled happily. The verb “smile” implies that she is happy. When someone smiles, they show happiness. If you want to emphasize her joy, try a stronger verb. She grinned.
However, you can use an adverb to good effect if the situation is unusual for the verb, e.g. She smiled sadly.
Here the adverb provides vital information: there are two contrasting emotions happening at the same time.
Do a search through your manuscript for all the adverbs. Check each one to make sure you need it in the sentence. Review your verb to think about replacing it with a stronger, more descriptive one; for example, grinned for smiled happily, stomped instead of walked angrily, etc.
The Overwrought Attribution
The words in the dialogue you write need to invoke the emotion of the character. Keep your attributions (also known as ‘dialogue tags’) short. Use “said,” “asked,” and “stated.” Keep your reader in the dialogue by minimizing attributions.
Eager writers are tempted to add adverbs to attribution. If you feel you need an adverb, rewrite the dialogue.
“I’ll never, ever talk to him again,” she said angrily.
The dialogue says it all — it’s clear that she is angry with him. No need for the adverb.
The Just-Say-No Adverbs
Certain adverbs have no place in narrative. If you find these adverbs, take them out. Adverbs to eliminate from your manuscript:
Characters can use them in dialogue, but there’s no place for these adverbs in your narrative.
Adverbs in the Wrong Place
As you check your adverbs, you may decide that some will stay. Make sure those adverbs are in the right place in the sentence.
- An adverb in a sentence with two verbs may be placed incorrectly.
- He watched as she ran meditatively.
- Readers will connect the adverb with the closest verb, so you want to make clear to your reader who is meditating.
- He watched meditatively as she ran.
One adverb that needs careful attention for placement is only. Use it after the verb and place it as close to the word it modifies as possible.
Grammar Girl uses grammarian James Kilpatrick’s example of how placing only changes the meaning of a sentence.
- Only John hit Peter in the nose.
- John hit only Peter in the nose.
- John hit Peter only in the nose.
- John only hit Peter in the nose.
6 Ways to Reduce “-ly” Adverb Abuse: A Word List for Writers
Are You Excited by Your Writing?
Mark Twain once said “I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.” If your writing shouts lackluster, an overabundance of adverbs might be the problem.
Consider the definition of adverb: any word or phrase that modifies a verb, adjective, or adverb.
Search your WIP for all words ending in -ly. Most will be adverbs. Although –ly words aren’t the only culprits, replacing them when possible will tighten your writing.
- The following guidelines will help.
- Choose Stronger Verbs
- Which of the following sentences do you prefer?
- Harold moved softly toward the door.
- Harold walked softly toward the door.
- Harold tiptoed toward the door.
- A strong verb in the third example removes the necessity for an -ly adverb, thereby decreasing word count and painting a better scene in readers’ minds.
- Evaluate the following phrases and their suggested replacements.
- Appear gradually: emerge, fade in, materialize
- Ascend quickly: skyrocket, soar, spring
- Ask sleepily: mumble, murmur, mutter
- Break violently: burst, explode, rupture
- Breathe heavily: gasp, pant, wheeze
- Burn brightly: blaze, flare, glare
- Change slightly: acclimate, adapt, adjust
- Check continuously: monitor, surveil, watch
- Chew continuously: chomp, gnaw, munch
- Close loudly: bang, slam
- Collide violently: crash, plow into, slam into
- Destroy utterly: annihilate, decimate, extirpate, obliterate
- Drink greedily: devour, guzzle, swill
- Eat hurriedly: bolt, gobble, inhale
- Enfold clumsily: clinch, grope, manhandle
- Examine closely: analyze, inspect, scrutinize
- Fall suddenly: plummet, plunge, nosedive
- Flicker intermittently: fluctuate, gutter, twinkle
- Flow rapidly: gush, spout, surge
- Flow slowly: dribble, drip, seep, trickle
- Follow carefully: shadow, track, trail
- Grab clumsily: fumble, grope, scrabble
- Hold gently: cradle, cuddle, cushion
- Hush obstinately: choke, clam up, stifle
- Investigate fully: analyze, reconnoiter, scrutinize
- Knock noisily: beat, hammer, pound
- Laugh hugely: bellow, guffaw, roar
- Look curiously: contemplate, examine, study
- Look nearsightedly: peer, squinch, squint
- Look quietly: glance, peek, regard
- Look steadfastly: gaze, goggle, stare
- Miss frightfully: ache for, pine for, yearn for
- Move cautiously: prowl, pussyfoot, slink
- Move convulsively: convulse, judder, spasm
- Move quickly: catapult, gallop, hurtle
- Move slightly: edge, stir, twitch
- Nod gloomily: droop, shrug, slouch
- Object strongly: condemn, oppose, protest
- Poke experimentally: examine, probe, prod
- React grimly: caution, forewarn, lour
- React irritably: glower, grumble, threaten
- Repair temporarily: improvise, jury-rig, make do
- Retreat hastily: abscond, escape, flee
- Rub vigorously: burnish, scour, scrub
- Run quickly: dart, race, sprint
- Sink ponderously: collapse, drop, plunge
- Smell potently: pong, reek, stink
- Smile foolishly: simper, smirk, snicker
- Smile pleasantly: beam, glow, grin
- Speak abruptly: retort, snap, snarl
- Speak bitterly: complain, grouse, grumble
- Speak excitedly: exclaim, rant, vociferate
- Speak feebly: snivel, whimper, whine
- Speak grumpily: complain, grumble, grump
- Speak hesitantly: dither, hedge, vacillate
- Speak loudly: bellow, roar, thunder
- Speak meditatively: posit, postulate, theorize
- Speak quietly: mumble, murmur, whisper
- Speak suddenly: blurt, interject, interrupt
- Spit disgustedly: deride, gob, hawk
- Stand solemnly: brood, meditate; mourn
- Step gingerly: creep, pad, tiptoe
- Strike violently: assault, clobber, punch
- Suggest eagerly: advocate, insist, urge
- Take seriously: accept, acknowledge, believe
- Talk longwindedly: blather, drone, prattle
- Tap nervously: drum, fidget, wriggle
- Throb painfully: ache, pound, twinge
- Touch gingerly: brush, pat, tap
- Tread heavily: slog, tramp, trudge
- Trip repeatedly: stagger, stumble, totter
- Try desperately: labor, strive, struggle
- Wade energetically: slosh, splash, sploosh
- Walk gracefully: glide, float, slink
- Walk painfully: hobble, limp, lurch
- Walk slowly: amble, saunter, stroll
- Walk softly: creep, sneak, tiptoe
- Walk tiredly: clod, lumber, plod
- Want badly: covet, crave, need
- Watch helplessly: cringe, despair, flounder
- Wind slowly: meander, snake, twist
- Analyze Adverbs of Degree
Rather than strengthen narrative, qualifiers often weaken it. The following list includes a few -ly adverbs of degree collected from books I’ve read. In many cases instead of replacing a phrase, the adverb could be omitted.
- Abnormally grumpy: cantankerous, churlish, crabby
- Absolutely afraid: horrified, petrified, terrified
- Absolutely outstanding: exceptional, stupendous, superior
- Amazingly fierce: ferocious, savage, vicious
- Appallingly bad: abysmal, appalling, terrible
- Astonishingly harsh: abrasive, caustic, rough
- Awesomely powerful: almighty, invincible, omnipotent
- Awfully dirty: filthy, grimy, soiled
- Brightly clad: gaudy, ostentatious, showy
- Cautiously optimistic: encouraged, hopeful, upbeat
- Considerably large: huge, humongous, massive
- Deeply channeled: furrowed, grooved, rutted
- Deliberately inappropriate: facetious, flippant, sardonic
- Desperately cold: freezing, icy, wintry
- Distressingly hungry: famished, ravenous, starving
- Dreadfully tired: drained, exhausted, spent
- Enormously creepy: frightening, macabre, sinister
- Especially charming: captivating, endearing, prepossessing
- Exceedingly happy: delighted, ecstatic, thrilled
- Exceptionally good: fantastic, outstanding, superb
- Excessively small: diminutive, miniscule, tiny
- Extraordinarily eager: ardent, impatient, keen
- Extremely glossy: brilliant, dazzling, glaring
- Extremely important: crucial, imperative, vital
- Genuinely funny: hilarious, sidesplitting, uproarious
- Ghastly pale: ashen, pallid, wan
- Hopelessly dependent: helpless, incapable, vulnerable
- Horribly frightened: horrified, petrified, terrified
- Incredibly old: ancient, hoary, timeworn
- Indescribably unpleasant: hideous, repulsive, revolting
- Intensely preoccupied: absorbed, engrossed, fascinated
- Markedly doubtful: cynical, skeptical, unconvinced
- Noticeably depressed: gloomy, glum, melancholy
- Overly brazen: arrogant, brash, insolent
- Overpoweringly noisy: deafening, roaring, thunderous
- Overwhelmingly tasty: delectable, delicious, scrumptious
- Particularly calm: placid, serene, tranquil
- Pleasantly melodic: dulcet, musical, tuneful
- Profoundly dark: black, Stygian, unlit
- Really hot: blistering, boiling, torrid
- Remarkably careful: cautious, vigilant, wary
- Richly carved: elaborate, ornate, sculpted
- Seriously wrong: calamitous, dire, disastrous
- Severely cruel: brutal, inhumane, savage
- Slightly wet: clammy, damp, moist
- Strikingly beautiful: gorgeous, striking, stunning
- Strongly resistant: defiant, obstinate, uncooperative
- Superbly gifted: accomplished, adept, talented
- Terribly anxious: apprehensive, overwrought, perturbed
- Totally amazing: astonishing, astounding, mind-boggling
- Tremendously courageous: bold, fearless, undaunted
- Truly ugly: hideous, repulsive, revolting
- Unbelievably healthy: hardy, robust, vigorous
- Universally accepted: familiar, known, recognized
- Unusually awkward: clumsy, inept, uncoordinated
- Utterly ashamed: disgraced, humiliated, mortified
- Additional adverbs of degree include almost, enough, just, most, much, quite, rather, somewhat, too, very, et al.
- Remove Redundant Adverbs That Modify Adjectives
Many modified adjectives fly better solo. If a comment is negative, do you need to describe it as purely negative? Analyze every adverb-adjective pair. Many adjectives are absolute and should never be modified.
- Here are a few phrases to get you started.
- Absolutely catastrophic: catastrophic
- Absolutely stunned: stunned
- Absolutely critical: critical
- Absolutely defeated: defeated
- Apparently uninjured: uninjured
- Badly broken: broken
- Completely blank: blank
- Completely harmless: harmless
- Completely poisoned: poisoned
- Directly ahead: ahead
- Entirely unmarked: unmarked
- Exactly sure: sure
- Fully charged: charged
- Particularly acute: acute
- Perfectly balanced: balanced
- Perfectly right: right
- Perfectly willing: willing
- Purely negative: negative
- Seriously alarmed: alarmed
- Thoroughly honest: honest
- Totally absorbent: absorbent
- Totally insane: insane
- Totally unexpected: unexpected
- Utterly desolate: desolate
- Utterly devastated: devastated
- Utterly foolish: foolish
- Utterly motionless: motionless
- Visibly distressed: distressed
- Remove Redundant Adverbs That Modify Verbs
Review the following phrases. If you check the definitions of the verbs, you’ll see why the modifying adverbs are superfluous.
- Caress lovingly: caress
- Chastise severely: chastise
- Crush forcefully: crush
- Dwindle gradually: dwindle
- Jab roughly: jab
- Lap softly: lap
- Pad noiselessly: pad
- Plummet rapidly: plummet
- Relish greatly: relish
- Slurp noisily: slurp
- Smack sharply: smack
- Suddenly notice: notice
… and so on. Whenever you see an adverb-verb combination, proceed with caution.
Beware. Some –ly Words Are Adjectives
If an -ly word modifies a noun or a pronoun, it’s an adjective:
The teenager’s voice was crackly.
The teenager had a crackly voice.
The blow he delivered was deadly.
He delivered a deadly blow.
Her personality seemed friendly.
She seemed to have a friendly personality.
His scent was manly.
He had a manly scent.
The bumps covering his arms looked ungainly.
Ungainly bumps covered his arms.
The suddenly trap snares many writers. Ditto for abruptly, unexpectedly, precipitously, etc.
Wanda moved into the backyard. Suddenly she heard a loud noise behind her. She turned toward it.
Study this edited version:
Wanda crept into the backyard. A growl rumbled behind her. She whipped around.
Note the subtle changes and strong verbs in the second passage. With four fewer words, including deletion of suddenly, we see a more vivid picture.
- If you require sudden action, and you’ve already repeated suddenly too often, investigate alternatives such as:
- All at once
- All of a sudden
- At once
- At that moment
- From nowhere
- In a flash
- In an instant
- Just then
- With precipitous speed
- Without delay
- Without hesitation
- Without notice
- Without warning
- Ready to Exercise Your Adverb Acumen?
- Remove all -ly adverbs in the following:
- Exercise 1
The softly burbling stream wound slowly through the forest, gently lapping at brightly glistening rocks. Kelly waded carefully into the water and sighed contentedly.
The burbling stream meandered through the forest, lapping at glistening rocks. Kelly slipped into the water. “Ahhhhh,” she murmured.
Notes: Strong verbs tighten the narrative. There is no need to modify glistening. Dialogue shows Kelly’s contented sigh.
Anxiously, I walked over the slowly swaying footbridge, desperately wrestling with the horribly overpowering nausea that suddenly threatened my hopelessly knotted stomach. My poorly secured backpack flopped rudely with every nervously placed step. My exhalations wheezed inexorably, filling the mysteriously dark air with rapidly swirling spirals of steam.
Soon, an icily cold blanket of clamminess enveloped me in its wildly tight embrace. Twisting tendrils — writhingly probing through the malodorous ether — enfolded me even more tightly and tenaciously than the grotesquely intimate caress of the dampness. They pushed on my chest, hungrily, insistently, forcefully …
I awoke and felt about blindly for my asthma inhaler.
I tiptoed over the swaying footbridge as I wrestled overwhelming nausea, my backpack flopping with every movement. My anxious wheezing filled the dark air with swirling steam spirals. An icy blanket of clamminess enveloped me in its tight embrace. Twisting tendrils writhed through the malodorous ether and enfolded me in their tenacious grip. They crushed my chest …
I awoke and groped for my asthma inhaler.