Adverbs are modifiers. They alter the meaning of words - verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and even whole sentences. Writers use adverbs to add color and refine meaning.
Examples of adverb use:
- Helen walked quickly to her next meeting. “Quickly” modifies the verb “walked.”
- She looked very comfortable in her knit dress. “Very” modifies the adjective “comfortable.”
- His stockbroker told him his investments were very steadily rising. “Very” modifies the adverb “steadily.”
- Unfortunately, we can’t make it to your wedding. “Unfortunately” modifies the sentence.
Many writers think of adverbs as the -ly words, but there are many without an -ly ending. Here are some common examples:
Afterward, already, almost, back, better, best, even, far, fast, hard, here, how, late, long, low, more, near, never, next, now, often, quick, rather, slow, so, soon, still, then, today, tomorrow, too, very, well, where, yesterday
Adverbs have their time and place, but when you overuse them, they can weaken prose. Worse yet, misplaced adverbs confuse readers. In this article, we'll take a look at a few ways to cut down on adverb usage to make your work clearer.
Trim Your Adverbs
You can teach yourself to minimize adverbs by recognizing the proper times to use them.
First, eliminate redundant adverbs that are unnecessary and repeat what the verb means.
Here's an example: She smiled happily. The verb "smile" implies that she is happy. When someone smiles, they show happiness. If you want to emphasize her joy, try a stronger verb. She grinned. However, you can use an adverb to good effect if the situation is unusual for the verb, e.g. She smiled sadly. Here the adverb provides vital information: there are two contrasting emotions happening at the same time.
Do a search through your manuscript for all the adverbs. Check each one to make sure you need it in the sentence. Review your verb to think about replacing it with a stronger, more descriptive one; for example, grinned for smiled happily, stomped instead of walked angrily, etc.
The Overwrought Attribution
The words in the dialogue you write need to invoke the emotion of the character. Keep your attributions (also known as 'dialogue tags') short. Use “said,” “asked,” and “stated.” Keep your reader in the dialogue by minimizing attributions.
Eager writers are tempted to add adverbs to attribution. If you feel you need an adverb, rewrite the dialogue.
“I’ll never, ever talk to him again,” she said angrily.
The dialogue says it all – it's clear that she is angry with him. No need for the adverb.
The Just-Say-No Adverbs
Certain adverbs have no place in narrative. If you find these adverbs, take them out. Adverbs to eliminate from your manuscript:
Characters can use them in dialogue, but there’s no place for these adverbs in your narrative.
Adverbs in the Wrong Place
As you check your adverbs, you may decide that some will stay. Make sure those adverbs are in the right place in the sentence.
An adverb in a sentence with two verbs may be placed incorrectly.
He watched as she ran meditatively.
Readers will connect the adverb with the closest verb, so you want to make clear to your reader who is meditating.
He watched meditatively as she ran.
One adverb that needs careful attention for placement is only. Use it after the verb and place it as close to the word it modifies as possible.
Grammar Girl uses grammarian James Kilpatrick’s example of how placing only changes the meaning of a sentence.
Only John hit Peter in the nose.
John hit only Peter in the nose.
John hit Peter only in the nose.
John only hit Peter in the nose.
The first sentence means John was the only person who hit Peter in the nose. In the second sentence, Peter is the sole recipient of the blow. In the third, Peter was hit in the nose but received no other blows or actions. And the fourth is open to interpretation. It could mean that John hit Peter in the nose but didn’t take any other actions or John hit Peter in the nose but did nothing else to it like pinch it.
When using only, make sure you know what you want to emphasize, then use the correct placement so that it’s clear to your reader.
Clean Your Adverbs
Minimizing your use of adverbs results in clear, crisp writing. Readers will enjoy reading your prose.
ProWritingAid helps you scrutinize your adverbs and decide whether to remove or rewrite them. Try it for free!