Adverbs are words that modify other words, like adjectives and verbs. Many adverbs end in "-ly." Adverbs are grammatically correct, but not all adverbs are created equal. Some adverbs add needed meaning to your text. Other adverbs are bad: they indicate weak writing and should be replaced with stronger adjectives or verbs.
Most writing software highlights all instances of “-ly” adverbs. But not all “-ly” adverbs are bad. In fact, some are necessary, like adverbs of time, which tell your reader when something happened. ProWritingAid just highlights the bad adverbs in your writing so you can replace them as necessary.
Bad adverbs modify weak verbs and adjectives. They say in many words what a strong adjective or verb can say in one word. For instance:
- The dog ran quickly to its owner.
- The dog raced to its owner.
“Raced” is a stronger, more emotive verb than “ran.” It also says in one word what “ran quickly” says in two.
We recommend using less than 15 bad adverbs in your writing. You can fix bad adverbs by replacing them with stronger verbs, nouns, or adjectives.
Why Bad Adverbs Hurt Your Writing
Adverbs are a part of speech, just like any other. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using an adverb. They are grammatically correct. However, overusing adverbs is a sign of lazy writing.
Adverbs are often used in instances when a stronger verb would do a better job of conveying meaning:
- He walked swiftly towards the window.
- He dashed towards the window.
“Dashed” is a stronger, more evocative verb. “Dashed” also says the same thing in one word that “walked swiftly” says in two. Since published writing is concerned with conciseness, stronger verbs are better for your work than adverbs and weak verbs.
The same goes for adjectives: a strong noun or single adjective is better than a string of adverb descriptors.
Examples of Bad Adverbs
There are three main categories to watch out for:
#1: When the adverb is redundant with the verb it modifies
- Amy whispered quietly to her mom.
In this example, “quietly” is a bad adverb because it’s redundant when used with “whispered.” Whispering is already quiet. No need to say so again.
Here are some more examples of redundant adverbs:
- When she pressed "undo," the document reverted back to its original state.
- The baseball fans screamed loudly when their star shortstop hit a home run.
#2: When the adverb modifies a weak verb or adjective
Not all adverbs are created equal. Neither are all verbs. For example:
- When Joshua saw his sister fall, he called loudly for help.
You can replace “called loudly” with a stronger, more emotive verb:
- When Joshua saw his sister fall, he screamed for help.
Here are some more examples of weak verbs:
- Daniel drove quickly to his mother’s house.
- Martha walked slowly to the store after practice.
#3: When the adverb doesn’t add any solid information
Certain adverbs don’t provide any value to your text. These include adverbs like extremely, definitely, truly, very, and really.
Think about it: what does “very” mean, anyway? Nothing solid! So if you’re tempted to use “very” (or another of these adverbs), it’s better to replace it with a stronger verb or adjective.
Not All Adverbs Are Created Equal: What Makes a Good Adverb
Some adverbs add needed clarity and meaning to your writing. Here are some examples of good adverbs:
#1: Adverbs that add context or new information
Adverbs of time, for instance, give context to when something happened:
- They went early to the game to get better seats.
The adverb “early” helps the reader understand when the subjects of the sentence left.
#2: Adverbs that replace clunky phrasing
Sometimes, adverbs can fix phrasing that feels strange or clunky. Consider:
- He threw the bags into the corner in a rough manner.
- He threw the bags into the corner roughly.
The second option is clearer and easier to read.
Not all adverbs are bad. Not all adverbs are good. As the author, you have the power to decide whether or not to include adverbs in your writing.