The Adverb Conundrum

As it turns out, there are a whole bunch of writers on the internet getting their knickers in a twist about adverbs. It’s both amusing and informative (one of my favourite combos). I’m going to put my hands up and say that I am not very good with grammar. So naturally, I’ve written an entire blog post about my experiences with adverbs because that’s just the way I roll. Why should you care? Well, I have no answer for that my friend but you’ve made it this far already so you might as well just crack on. It’ll take a few minutes tops.

To get started I had to figure out what the heck an adverb actually is. Here’s a quick Google definition:

ADVERB (noun): a word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, expressing manner, place, time, or degree (e.g. gentlyherenowvery ). Some adverbs, for example sentence adverbs, can also be used to modify whole sentences.

When the whole adverb argument (or advargument, if you will) rears its fascinating head, a lot of writers take the opportunity to attack single words, like those ending in -ly. However, as it turns out, an adverb can sometimes be more than one word. Who would have thought it? The answer is people who paid attention in school.

Now, here’s an example that contains two different types of adverb:

In the hallway, the bell rang loudly.

This sentence isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever written (thankfully) but it can be tightened. By using the word ‘loudly’ I have fallen into the trap of using an adverb to support a verb that is either too weak or that doesn’t need supporting. I reckon readers are smart enough to infer that a bell ringing close by is loud so an adverb isn’t really necessary in this instance. If I really want to hit it home then maybe I could change ‘rang loudly’ to ‘clanged’, ‘pealed’, or ‘chimed’ depending on the effect I want.

Although getting rid of adverbs can be super helpful when it comes to tightening my writing, it would be impossible to get rid of them entirely. In the above example, ‘in the hallway’ can also be considered an adverb. These phrase adverbs are useful in giving the reader information about the how, where, why or when of things. I find the best thing for me to do is check myself before I wreck my writing by including too much redundant information.

To surmise: The danger of relying on adverbs is that I might end up telling and not showing. However, there are instances in which adverbs are okay (powerful even). There is no umbrella solution to this knicker twisting situation. If I delete all adverbs without any form of consideration it isn’t going to transform my writing into a literary masterpiece overnight. It’s not the adverb that’s the problem, it’s the way that I use it.



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