In Defense of Adverbs

Okay, I’m going to take a stand here. I love adverbs. Love, love, love them. But they are the Rodney Dangerfield of the grammar world: They get no respect. I’ve read writing blog upon writing blog that suggests going through your novel, doing a “find” for all words ending in “-ly” and then deleting them.


Sure, we should tread lightly when using adverbs, as we should with adjectives, but to delete all of them? One blogger was more lenient, saying there should be no more than one adverb for every 300 words of manuscript. Seriously? Do we really want our young writers scrutinizing their prose in order to adhere to some random writing rule?

Are many adverbs unnecessary? Yes. We don’t need to know that the “radio blared loudly” — “blared” already tells us that. The last thing you want in your sentence is a strong verb weakened by a redundant adverb. I’m with you there. And do I agree that many writers rely too heavily on adverbs? Yes. In the first drafts of my work, I see them everywhere — there were a few unnecessary ones on the first pages of Baby Grand — and over the course of the revision process, many of them will disappear, replaced by more effective verb choices. But not all!

We need adverbs. Not only are they fun, descriptive parts of speech, but when used sparingly or pointedly they can be very powerful. Here’s an example:

“We went in through the heavy leather door that moved very lightly.” –Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway, often deemed an adverb hater, uses few adjectives and even fewer adverbs in his prose, but those he does use shine.

My advice? Go through your novel and look for all those wonderful “-ly” words, but rather than deleting them, think about whether or not you really need them. I mean, really need them. If you do, keep them.  And love them.

And, yes, I’ve counted at least six adverbs in this 338-word post. Got a problem with that?

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of Adverbs

  1. I don’t think you need both sparingly and pointedly. The close proximity of the adverbs made them stand out and lessened your point.



    Don't tell anyone, but I also love adverbs. The first time I tested my manuscript for adverbs I had so many that it looked as if confetti had exploded on my page. (I colored them with a highlighter.)

    I not only used too many, I didn't use them well. I cheapened my text by using an adverb instead of a better description. Taking adverbs out helped strengthen my work.

    That rule is there for people like me. Once you have a developed sense of writing, and can pin-point areas where you are telling instead of showing, adverbs can be useful to you.

    I think all writing rules are like that, really. Rules are there to help people begin their path to success.

  2. Pingback: What?! I’m a Literary Snob? « Making 'Baby Grand,' the Novel: Afterbirth

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