Adverbs - Eliminate or Embrace?


Ok, forgive the trip back to 6th grade English but, do you remember what an adverb is?

An adverb is a word that describes - or modifies, a verb, an adjective or another adverb.

Adverbs explain the action. For example:

• She loudly screams

• They quickly ran

• He sadly uttered

There are some sticklers for the English language who believe that the use of adverbs indicates lazy writing and should be removed with extreme prejudice. In a 2007 Boston Globe article Jan Freeman wrote “Even Harry Potter's most loyal fans would concede that his creator, J.K. Rowling, has a weakness for adverbs…In an otherwise admiring review of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," Stephen King observed that Rowling "never met [an adverb] she didn't like." Harry, he noted, "speaks quietly, automatically, nervously, slowly, and often -- given his current case of raving adolescence -- ANGRILY." (These are two of my favorite writers by the way).

I am from the new school, as is J.K Rowling, and believe that your use of adverbs should fit the occasion. Use them if you dare, but be sure your dialogue is strong enough in other areas, so your story doesn’t come across as immature. Perfect English is appropriate for some works, but in modern literature, it can come across as forced, dull and robotic. How many people do you know who speak perfect English anyway?

So, as your editor, I will probably have you replace most of your adverbs with stronger verbs because that’s just good writing but, if you truly believe your story would benefit from the use of a few adverbs, be brave and use them!

P.S. Freeman points out that in the famous Harry Potter title 'Deathly' modifies 'Hallows.' And what modifies nouns? Yes, that's right, adjectives, and not adverbs!”

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