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ProAm Tip #31 - Adverbs

October 19, 2017

An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, noun phrase, clause, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as how?, in what way?, when?, where?, and to what extent?.

 

Adverbs are evil. Adverbs should die. Adverbs are a rookie’s tool. Adverbs are linguistic Hitler.

 

Okay, that last one might have gone too far. But you take my meaning, I hope. Adverbs are not a good tool for a writer. But why? Why do writers hate adverbs? Why to so many people use them?

 

I struggle with adverbs on a daily basis. It’s a crutch that I lean upon heavily. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re the devil, and I use them an awful lot. But I believe they belong in your first draft, not your second or third.

 

Consider the following:

‘John slowly followed the car in front of him.’

 

Okay. You know the who, the what, the where. You know the how. It’s simple, clean, and it tells you what’s what. But it’s imprecise. That’s a strange thing to say about a word which tells you exactly HOW John’s following, isn’t it? He’s following slowly.

 

‘John trailed the car in front of him.’

 

Trailed is a more precise description of what John is doing than ‘slowly followed.’ John is not in a hurry. John is in a line of cars, perhaps at rush hour, perhaps just on his way to the store.

 

In the mind of the writer, the action takes place. How to convey that action: that’s writing. How BEST to convey that action: that’s craftsmanship.

 

‘John crept behind the car in front of him.’

 

‘Crept’ is an even more precise description. It conveys meaning. Subtext. John isn’t ‘slowly’ following. He’s not ‘trailing’. He’s ‘creeping’. Creeping suggests something furtive about his action. Secretive. Possibly nefarious.

Writing should be more than simply recording events. Writing is not recording. Typing is rec