Death of the Adverb
It’s always open season on adverbs. No other word class attracts such contempt. It’s fashionable to hate adverbs; many so-called ‘pros’ will demand total adverb abstinence and many people subsequently remove adverbs with reckless abandon. Why? Because that’s what people say to do. Well that’s a stupid reason to do something so again I ask, ‘why?’
Adverbs are redundant. Anyone will tell you. Consider the following sentence:
She ran quickly.
Obviously, the adverb – ‘quickly’—is unnecessary in the sentence because ‘ran’ already establishes her quickness. Or does it? Does everybody run quickly? What if the subject is an eighty-year-old infirmed obese lady? Is the quickness of her running so clearly established?
So adverbs can be useful in modifying verbs but if the quickness of the person isn’t established by ‘ran’ then rather than modifying the verb what about changing it? There is a multitude of interchangeable verbs that carry their own connotations.
All of these verbs describe a different sort of movement that is much more evocative than the simple ‘ran’. So we can understand why the argument against adverbs makes sense. Rather than using an adverb to modify a weak verb it is far better to change the verb to a more suitable one.
The problem isn’t that adverbs are redundant. The problem is that people are making poor word choices and are trying to fix this with adverbs. While adverbs are one solution, better word choice is the better solution.
Adverbs aren’t the problem. But they’re also not the solution. So what to do with them? Avoiding all adverbs is foolish because it shows an ignorance of the scope of what adverbs actually do. Adverbs modify not only verbs but adjectives and other adverbs as well.
She was the least impressive dancer.
The adverb ‘least’ is modifying the adjective ‘impressive’.
The letter should arrive very soon.
The adverb ‘very’ is modifying the other adverb, ‘soon’.
There are also two categories of adverbs that do more than just modify single words. They modify the entire sentence. They are crucial to the meaning of the sentence, and to remove them changes the sentence’s meaning.
The first of these – conjuncts – include words such as hence, however, therefore and thus. Similar to conjunctions – which join smaller parts of sentences together – conjuncts join whole sentences together.
So we might have something like:
Marcia’s in trouble. However, I don’t want to go out in the rain.
The use of ‘however’ joins the ideas of the two sentences and shows a clear link between them. Without ‘however’ the two sentences aren’t necessarily linked and the relation between the two is lost. So removing conjuncts from sentences is not a great idea.
The second category of adverbs – attitudinal adverbs – express an attitude that relates to the overall proposition of the sentence.
In the following sentences, attitudinal adverbs are italicised.
Maybe she will come.
Sadly that’s not the case.
Fortunately Stephanie Meyer has many years of writing ahead of her.
In each sentence, the attitudinal adverb changes the entire tone and overall meaning of the sentence.
‘Maybe she will come’ has an implication distinctly different to ‘She will come.’ It would be awfully silly if we were to remove attitudinal adverbs from sentences.
Here are some other really useful adverbs that you probably use all the time and just can’t do without:
Also, never, not, next, often, seldom, then.
So we definitely don’t want to remove all adverbs from our writing. I think the crusade against adverbs needs itself to be modified. Rather than fighting against adverbs we should be fighting for clear and efficient writing. Always strive to write accurately what you mean. Often, modifying the word choice with a synonym rather than modifying the word with an adverb will provide you with a more accurate depiction of what you are attempting to say. Sometimes you just won’t be able to find a more appropriate word and it is perfectly fine to make use of an adverb. If the adverb is contributing to the meaning and there isn’t a simpler, more appropriate way of doing so, keep the adverb. If the adverb is trying to hide poor word choice, then dispose of it.