In Praise of the Hated Adverb…Seriously

The poor adverb is like a remote island deemed useless by most editors. (Kamaole Beach, Maui, 2014; photo by Cindy Fazzi)

The poor adverb is like a remote island deemed useless by most editors. (Kamaole Beach, Maui, 2014; photo by Cindy Fazzi)

Stephen King believes the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Most editors and writing teachers hate adverbs as well. I agree that an adverb is superfluous most of the time, but when used in the right place, it can be effective.

Barbara Baig, who teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University, defended the poor adverb in an article in Writer’s Digest. “To advise young writers to get rid of all their adverbs is like advising a pitcher with four great pitches to throw only three of them—it’s professional suicide,” she wrote. Baig is the author of “Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers.”

Some writers and editors ban adverbs. I’m not one of them. As with most things in life, moderation is key. Don’t use adverbs as a crutch, and don’t kill all of them either.

10 Great Quotes with Adverbs

I’ve rounded up 10 great quotes from authors who dared to use adverbs in their novels.

“Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“Mrs. Dalloway,” Virginia Woolf:

“He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink.”

“House of Mirth,” Edith Wharton:

“She was so evidently the victim of civilization which produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”

“A Room with a View,” E.M. Forster

Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much.

“A Sport and a Pastime,” James Salter

The night is cold. It is piercingly clear.

“Atonement,” Ian McEwan

She didn’t forgive him, she simply gave up.

“Cold Mountain,” Charles Frazier

The world was such an incredibly lonely place and to lie down beside him, skin to skin, seemed the only cure.

Heir to Glimmering World,” Cynthia Ozick

He was German—densely, irrevocably German.

“Under the Wide and Starry Sky,” Nancy Horan

The red shoes batted around in his brain like flies. Could a pair of scarlet shoes render him so hopelessly smitten?

Read these Pro-Adverb Articles:

“Don’t Dismiss Adverbs” by Barbara Baig, Writer’s Digest

“Why I am Proudly, Strongly, and Happily in Favor of Adverbs” by Lily Rothman, The Atlantic

 

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13 Comments

  1. Stephen King is well…a King!Lovely post!

    Reply
  2. I’ve cut way back on adverbs, but it seems contrived and occasionally wordy to omit all of them. I’m reading a popular author now whom I’m sure is making a decent living (his books have thousands of reviews). That said, there isn’t a rule he hasn’t broken and I love his work. Sometimes we need to take a breath and just write. Thanks or the great post.

    Reply
  3. Yes, MODERATION is crucial. Much as I would like to put the word “MODERATION” in blinking red 20 pt type, that would be immoderate. The comment interface would not let me do it anyway.

    Reply
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