Adverbs… Yes or No?

Adverbs… I didn’t realise that I had a tendency to overuse them until a beta-reader pointed it out and then I was like, “Wow, Jodie your adverbs are out of control!”

According to my very beautiful Oxford Dictionary:

An adverb is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies another word or a word group, expressing a relation of manner, place, time, degree, circumstance, cause, etc.
An adverb is used:
1. With a verb to indicate – how something happens, where something happens, when something happens, how often something happens.
2. To strengthen or weaken the meaning of a verb, an adjective or another adverb.
3. To add to the meaning of the whole sentence.

I think adverbs get a bad wrap. Especially when you have writers like Stephen King saying Β “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” But I don’t see what’s wrong with an adverb here or there. They sound poetic sometimes.

How often do you guys use adverbs? Are they scattered all over your manuscript or do you avoid them? Let’s talk about adverbs πŸ™‚

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Adverbs… Yes or No?

  1. bkpyett says:

    Jodie, I’m so pleased you brought this one up. I used to use adverbs liberally!
    The editor suggested I remove all from my manuscript, and I’m so pleased I did.
    It is a much stronger piece of writing now. Adjectives are another contentious issue, but I found it harder to remove those…. as I do like to describe things….

    Like

  2. I like adverbs. And punctuation, too. And all sorts of other things that “they” say you shouldn’t use nowadays. Then again, this is a comment being posted by a person who has never used an emoticon.

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  3. kingmidget says:

    I don’t really pay attention to it, but I do think that adverbs are evidence of … well … they’re short cuts. You use an adverb instead of a beautiful phrase that describes the thing. Adverbs are the easy way out. If I notice that I’ve used an adverb, I try to identify a different way to describe it so I don’t use the adverb. If I can’t come up with anything, I stick with the adverb.

    Like

  4. It’s interesting that you should mention that, I was just considering this earlier today. I feel like sometimes I do use adverbs more than I should. I guess it’s tough to gauge how many are ok, but as long as a piece sounds good to the reader that is what matters most.

    Like

  5. Shari Risoff says:

    I try to keep it to one adverb only unless there is a compelling reason to use two. Find one strong one and edit out the rest. Faulkner said… a novelist is a failed short story writer and a short story writer is a failed poet. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jose F. Diaz says:

    From what I understand, and what I agree with, adverbs are troublesome in fiction writing because they tell how the character did something instead of the writer showing us how something happened. They are necessary from time to time, but they should be sparse at best. I’ve had a teacher tell me that I shouldn’t have more than two adverbs per 1,000 words (and only two exclamations for an entire work).
    Ex.
    “John walked slowly across the courtyard and tripped clumsily on a rock.”
    As a reader, I am told what happened and that’s it.
    “John strolled through the courtyard with an easy stride until one of his sandals snagged one of the red bricks on the path and he stumbled.”
    Okay, not one of my greatest sentences, admittedly, but when we leave out the adverbs I get to unpack the sentence and really show you what is happening. You get a moment that you can see in your head.

    Of course there are no concrete rules in writing; Writing is an art and meant to be a creative expression. But, it is important to know what an adverb does for you, and what it keeps you from doing. They are also great with helping pace a story, at least for me. If you want the reader to speed along, then use them, but if you want to immerse the reader in the moment, to make it bloom in the reader’s mind, then you will probably want to limit them. That’s my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. sonworshiper says:

    I agree with kingmidget’s comment. Adverbs have a purpose and sometimes no other word will do. But it becomes a sort of “telling” instead of showing the reader how a thing is done. If I write the forceful and violent way a character launches into a fight, I don’t need to say he fought powerfully. It’s understood. If I describe the smooth, flowing motions of the dancer as she twirls, leaps, and bends, I don’t need to say she moved gracefully.
    But sometimes, I don’t need to communicate all that. I just need to say “he spoke slowly” and that’s all the reader needs to get. So adverbs have a place, but I think it’s pretty small.

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  8. I’m new to sharing my writing with anyone so have not given this much thought. Perhaps I should if it makes your writing stronger as has been said. Thank you for that.

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  9. dlwhitehead says:

    Most U.S. English professors fail to cover this, but in journalism adverbs are seen as weak writing. I would agree with this, but adverbs are in some cases unavoidable. The best practice is to limit their use and try to write around them.

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  10. davidac44 says:

    It depends on what you’re writing. Sometimes more active tense stories are better with fewer adverbs, while some need a large dose of them. They help tell the story use them, but if every other sentence has two to three adverbs, you may want to edit. Everything in moderation. If you’re honest in reading your work you can tell when too much is too much.

    Like

  11. sarahlearichards says:

    What’s wrong with adjectives? You have to describe certain things (i.e. set the scene). Just imagine if a travel writing piece contained none.

    Like

  12. pauljgies says:

    I agree with sonworshiper. My policy is, on rewrite, to delete half the adverbs. You’re doing the reader’s imaginative work for her. And do not modify “said” with adverbs.

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  13. I think Stephen King is being melodramatic, but when someone calmly explains why, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request. People get worked up over the smallest of things.

    Like

  14. Meensi says:

    Writing is an art and each one of us do it in our own style. Some we understand and some we need to ponder or try to relate to- each to their own. But, it’s interesting to see all these comments, are we all on the same page, do we agree…

    Like

  15. danniehill says:

    If I see another “suddenly’ I’ll rip the page out of the book– Well, I’m not that bad but I don’t like a plethora adverbs for much the same reason many good writers don’t like them. The reader should already understand the scene and how characters are feeling without ‘ly,ing’ them over the head. That doesn’t mean you never use them– even Stephen uses them. Let the readers use their imagination and brainpower to make the story their own. It really is true that the less said to convey a point the better the story reads.

    Great post, Jodie.

    Like

    • I must admit I’m often guilty of over-using ‘suddenly’. I guess it’s way to inject some cheap drama into a situation, but it’s rarely necessary. But then, like adverbs, it has its uses – and therefore, as others have commented, it can be used, just very sparingly. (Hmmm … too many commas in that last sentence – maybe we need to talk about them too …)

      Like

      • danniehill says:

        Hi Christopher. I totally agree with the word sparingly. All one needs do is look at the writing of most popular, wealthy writers, fiction or not. However, I’ve recently discovered that one of my favorite authors, Wilbur Smith, is a ‘suddenly’ freak, but okay with other adverbs. It’s devastating, ha!
        Commas would make a great post for Jodie. I’m known as a ‘comma monster’ by my editor, Using adverbs, commas and even poor grammar is fine in a first draft. The story is the thing at that time. Editing comes later and long before you give something to the readers.

        Like

  16. krystal jane says:

    I don’t even think about it. I’m just about never writing and stop myself to ask, “Do I need this adverb?” I don’t need the stress when I write. I understand the sentiment, but I choose the Hakuna Matata path.

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  17. “They”(whoever that is) say they weaken writing and should be removed. Sometimes I find them okay though-for example writing something that sounds conversational, does that make sense? I’ve tried to reduce mine but I still use ’em too. I’ll have a better grip on the subject in a year. I am interested to see how my writing changes and if I can break the habit. I didn’t notice YOUR adverbs yet so don’t worry!

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  18. David Paul Beeson says:

    Really great post. I’m getting a lot of insight, myself. I liked what kingmidget, Jose F. Diaz, and sonworshipper said. I probably did what many people do when they begin to write – use too many of them. After finding a flow in my writing I went back to my first blog and realized I would use up to three in the same phrase … phrase after phrase. For me, it was more about like you stated, they sound poetic. However, I’m learning more about balancing the reader and me. And just writing for myself meant adverbs sounded nice. But you have to make it good for your audience, too. I still use them, but much less.

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  19. Josh says:

    I try to eliminate them from my writing whenever possible because I like to expand the narrative to show what’s going on with the characters. Movements, facial expressions, noises. It’s all better than just telling how a character feels by using an emotion word or an adverb, and I think it makes a richer story.

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  20. chrispavesic says:

    When I edit my short stories, I read each sentence in isolation. Since there is a “number crunch” with short stories, especially flash fiction, I try to eliminate adverbs as much as possible.
    As Danniehill states above, “suddenly” is easy to eliminate in most cases. “Suddenly I jumped to my feet” versus “I jumped to my feet.” The “suddenly” does not add to the sentence.
    Cheers!
    Chris

    Like

  21. USe them Sparingly, But NOT in Dialogue Attribution. Whenever Someone Says Something ‘irreverantly’, its Almost Like A Slap In The Face Everytime I Read it.

    Like

    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      I’d say this is a key point. I’d agree to pretty much never use them in those dialogue tags. “I hate you,” she said angrily is redundancy. If I remember correctly from King’s On Writing, this was his primary context for the statement about adverbs.

      As for the rest… well, everything in moderation is always a good guideline, but as many others have mentioned in this comment section, sparingly is even more effective. There are so many more ways to indicate action and description than those “-ly” words or “very”.

      Like

  22. mikeakin1 says:

    I find them to be at some point a useful tool. You get more of a word picture with them. This is all in my humble opinion of one who hasn’t published a damn thing yet! πŸ™‚

    Like

  23. Amanda Marie says:

    I love writing descriptions and use adverbs quite a bit, especially in the first draft. I believe that adverbs and adjectives have a place within narrative to color the story and create a vivid atmosphere. I agree that adverbs should be used sparingly unless the writer is trying to make a point, and should be used even less with dialogue tags.

    Another point: I don’t hate reading adverbs. Personally, it helps me imagine exactly what the author wants. Perhaps that’s why I use them so frequently. I want the reader to sense or experience the story exactly as I do in my head.

    My critique partner has her assignment to help rein in my adverb usage. The more I write, the less I seem to use them. It’s an ongoing battle for me, so don’t feel bad if you think you’ve used them more than you should. Use the ones you like and the ones that add the most to the story.

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  24. I think it’s a good rule to follow. The fewer adverbs the stronger and more diverse your sentences will be. Adverbs are the easy way.

    But, like every other rule, it’s made to be broken. So pick your adverbs wisely, and use then where you can get the most out if them.

    Like

  25. apgoodman says:

    I think the issue with adverbs is that they are deemed to be the reserve of the amateur. A little harsh, maybe, but that seems to be the logic. What I find is that they often do the reverse of what they’re intended – they weaken the verb rather than strengthen it.

    A few used here and there can be effective but lots and the writing turns a shade of purple.

    Like

  26. M T McGuire says:

    I think they’re like herbs or sugar or salt. Used sparingly they can add a whole new depth of flavour but too much and they can ruin the entire dish.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Like

  27. I know there are “rules” to writing and I strive to learn and understand them, but I think there is a place for adverbs as well as most words or phrases writers are told not to use. You don’t want to overuse any writing tool, and adverbs are no different. What I think is a writer should strive to make his or her writing the highest quality it can be and break rules if it helps the piece be as good as it can be. I read enough bestsellers to know that everyone is not on the same page with all the rules.i try to use sparingly but I work on a piece until it sounds right to me. If that includes a few adverbs then I am okay with that.

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  28. Luna Elektra says:

    I’m madly [adverb] in love with this article about adverbs! LOL Many (copy/editors/academia) get too stuck on this technicality. There’s a time and place for everything. Meaning and context trump grammar and the rules of English; they often defy them πŸ˜‰ Good article.

    Like

  29. I choose to defiantly play by my own exceptionally awesome rules.

    *Leaning up against fence brick wall in leather jacket, smoking a cigarette*

    πŸ˜‰

    Like

  30. Sierra says:

    I don’t think the strength of the manuscript depends on removal of any and all things descriptive – I think it hinges much more on the word choice and importance of that word choice. Yes, your MS shouldn’t be overloaded with “valiantly” and “questioningly,” but if used strategically (see what I did there?), they can help.

    I can assure you the road to hell is paced with many things – adverbs not being one of them. ;]

    Like

  31. “All of the previous commenters are generalising,” he said facetiously.

    I couldn’t help myself, I had to write more than just a comment about this topic (or rather, about its comments): http://amosmcarpenter.com/2014/03/31/five-aspiring-authors-in-a-cage/

    Non illegitimi carborundum πŸ™‚

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  32. I never really even thought about adverbs, because when I write I tend to do so in a sort of “stream of consciousness.” But it’s good to reflect on our writing, and I’ll keep an eye out for adverbs when I edit now! Good call!!

    Like

  33. egehlin says:

    I try to keep adverbs to a minimum. Oh, some will sneak in and I’ll seek them out…eliminate them without remorse. Of course, there are times when I’ll show mercy and a few will remain as necessary.

    Like

  34. Amanda says:

    Adverbs are fine, but what I’ve learned is that the need to be used sparingly. Some writers use them as a crutch and often use them in place of stronger verbs and adjectives.

    Like

  35. Gail says:

    Hi Jodie, In the same way I don’t subscribe to diets that eliminate food groups, I don’t ostracize parts of speech. However, in the grammar class I recently completed, use of extra adverbs was included in the list of reasons some works are wordy. Specific culprits: clearly, interestingly, obviously, really and totally. I guess language is just like anything else in life – too much of a good thing is no good:-)
    Thank you for liking my post, “Extraordinary moments on loan.”

    Like

  36. jlhugar says:

    Overuse of anything in style or voice is going to stand out. That’s what betas are for(and editors). I know I’ve had repetitive aspects of my writing pointed out to me, and it’s always made my writing stronger after revisions.

    Like

  37. DaPoet says:

    LOL Heck! I just write whatever it is that I want to write and to H-E-L-L with what anyone else thinks about adverbs or whatever. πŸ™‚

    Like

  38. tgotsis13 says:

    I think someone should have told Tolkien to cut his adverbs. Not to mention his adjectives

    Like

  39. Richard M.G. says:

    What’s funny is that J.K Rowling made a killing using adverbs….also, Stephen King loves them too. I lost count of his adverb use in Misery (currently reading by the way)

    Like

  40. How quickly we forget:
    Likely when we build our word nests
    We gently needle through
    A spritely adverb thread…

    Like

  41. Harliqueen says:

    I hear this advice everywhere, to stop using adverbs. I hate that advice. I like adverbs, not just as a writer but as a reader, I never read a book and think, ‘Blimey, this book is awful for its overuse of adverbs’. Never.
    I think they’re almost like dialogue tags, when people say ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, I take it in without really reading, it’s there for confirmation but I don’t ever really notice it and I don’t believe it will harm a book to use them. People should write how they want, and if it’s particularly bad then an editor will point it out, but someone’s writing should never be swayed by what publishers or published authors say or think is right. (Rant over! πŸ˜€ )

    Great post πŸ™‚

    Like

  42. Sam says:

    I don’t dislike adverbs as much as King, but I do agree that it usually means you could have used a stronger verb, which is his argument. As far as how many you could use, there is a website called the Hemingway App (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/) that gives you a threshold of about one per 100 words and I think that’s appropriate. Being aware of it helps keep your writing strong.

    Like

  43. Lauren Kells says:

    I’m in the “No on adverbs” camp. Fun presentation of the question!

    Like

  44. daisymama5 says:

    I wrote a whole post about my love for adverbs!

    Like

  45. Tony Graff says:

    I’m against using adverbs like proverbial bacon to be added with everything. My understanding, and everything I’ve been taught, is that adverbs are for when you absolutelly cannot find a verb to describe what you’re trying to convey. There are plenty of great verbs out there that many adverbs revert to being used with common and bland verbs. Focus on the cake, not the frosting. Then you can see if it actually needs icing.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. aabraham9921 says:

    This is deep and I also like Stephen king he is a great writer but I think and I know that adverbs are good too.

    Like

  47. Michael56j says:

    Although we need rules, we also need to be allowed to be creative. To me, adverbs add colour and form to what could, otherwise, be a very dull narrative. Maybe that’s why I don’t read the bland books written by some of the more famous, but boring, authors.

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  48. Lisa Thomson says:

    Adverbs can feel a little lazy (and sometimes just plain silly), but I’ll take a few adverbs over the alternative…”He said loudly” vs. “He exclaimed at a great volume”

    Like

  49. erinszoo says:

    I think adverbs make us lazy and keep us from using words to their full purpose. WE are writers. Above all else we should be able to use language to our advantage. But it isn’t easy or fast. It takes work … but eliminating adverbs does make writing better overall.

    Like

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