Decoding Adverbs

Though I don’t actually agree—

“the road to hell is paved with adverbs” ~ Stephen King—

I believe 99% of the time, a writer can replace them with an active verb,
or remove completely. (Pun intended)

What is an adverb?

A word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content In “arrived early” the word “early” is an adverb. (merriam-webster.com)

Okay, I kinda get it, but—huh? LOL – let’s try somewhere else…

An adverb is a word that modifies (describes) a verb (he sings loudly), an adjective (very tall), another adverb (ended too quickly), or even a whole sentence (Fortunately, I had brought an umbrella). Adverbs often end in -ly, but some (such as fast) look exactly the same as their adjective counterparts. (grammarly.com)

Better, definitions are great, but I’ll try to break it down further with regard to creative writing.

As you can see, an adverb at its simplest definition, is a modifier/amplifier for another word, and often times redundant. (see what I did there?) I say, if you need to modify/amplify another word; then perhaps the issue is with word choice. Adverbs are symptoms of other issues, like telling, and passive voice (next in the Grammar Decoded series).

Remember, strong active verbs help pull readers into the story, and adjectives help them visualize and imagine the scene.  Please take a moment with the examples below. I hope to show, how better word choice eliminates the need for adverbs.  

Adverbs which modify verbs

She ran quickly across the field. – Here the adverb amplifies the verb ran, and quantifies it as quick.

She darted across the field.

She raced across the field.

She sprinted across the field.

This cake is really good. – Here the adverb modifies the passive verb, is, (which I changed to an active verb below, but that’s another article), and quantifies taste.

This cake tastes delicious.

The cake tastes scrumptious.

This cake tastes amazing.

Adverbs which modify adjectives

The sign was badly broken, but it still welcomed them home. – Here the adverb modifies the adjective, broken. If we choose a stronger adjective, the adverb isn’t needed, and BONUS, you’re showing not telling. Giving the reader a clear image.

The weather-worn sign welcomed them home.

The unreadable sign still welcomed them home.

They were welcomed home by a broken sign.

You look very beautiful in the blue dress. – Here the adverb amplifies the adjective, beautiful. This may sound nice when it comes from a loved one, but for readers it’s telling, and they prefer imagery.

Your eyes sparkle in the blue dress.

Your beauty shines in the blue dress.

The blue dress accents your beautiful legs.

Note: not all adverbs are bad, and sometimes will sound better to the reader. So the old saying, understand a rule before breaking it, is the point, and overuse is the problem.

Adverbs decoded
My advice is always—balance…

Next on Grammar Decoded we’ll discus passive voice. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and thank you for being Askew!

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