Grammar GuideAdverbsWhat's the proper way to use adverbs?

What's the proper way to use adverbs?

What's the proper way to use adverbs?

Adverbs are one of the four major word classes, along with nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

We use adverbs to add more information about a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a clause, or a whole sentence (and, less commonly, about a noun phrase).

Some style guides and dictionaries suggest avoiding sentence adverbs in formal writing. That's because adverbs are often redundant: they're extra words in a sentence that don't really add anything to the sentence itself.

An adverb is redundant if you use it to modify a verb with the same meaning in its definition.

  • Tom shouted loudly at the taxi as it drove away.

It’s not possible to shout quietly, so the word loudly is redundant.

  • Anna smiled happily as she ate her ice cream.

Again, if Anna is smiling, we already know that she is happy.


Here are a few more examples of adverbs that repeat the meaning of the verb they’re trying to modify:

  • On the queen’s death, the throne reverts back to the next male in line.
  • The spooked horse bolted hastily across the field.
  • His unfortunate nose protruded out over his upper lip.
  • Steve whispered quietly to Susie and then tiptoed soundlessly off.

All of those words can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence.

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.

Using one of our previous examples, Anna smiled happily, the verb "smile" implies that she is happy. If you want to emphasize her joy, try a stronger verb.

  • Anna grinned as she ate her ice cream.

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.