Friday, July 9, 2010

Adverbs: the Scourge of Prose

The heavy-handed use of adverbs is the beginner’s writing crutch. When seeking emphasis, it’s easy to slip up and throw in an adverb. The end result is weakened text.

Adverbs are really bad.
Adverbs are bad.

The second sentence of the above example is stronger without the adverb.

Adverbs add weight and length to writing which should be short and tight. The use of adverbs show a lack of confidence and they often restate the obvious:

He ran quickly.

Running is a quick motion. If you want to emphasise the quickness then it would be better to say: ‘He bolted’, or ‘He dashed’. This puts a striking image in the reader’s mind and makes the writing more interesting.

She was very small.
She was tiny.
She was so small she was mistaken for an M&M.

This is not to say adverbs can’t be used at all. Just be sure when you do choose to use them.

Can you think of any amusing examples of the poor use of adverbs?


  1. When you're in the zone writing, it's easy to stick an adverb in and keep writing. The trick is to remember to go back during the editing and cut as many as possible.

    Great post Lynda.

  2. i really like to desperately depend on the repetitive use of adverbs to helpfully make... oh man. i can't do this.
    great post lynda!

  3. you made me laugh, Aspiring :)

  4. Oh, the neverending war with the adverbs. I read somewhere once that the problem with using too many adverbs wasn't the adverbs per se, but the fact that they often were the result of lazy writing. Like in your example the lazy writer would write "run fast" because he/she is not bothering to think of a better word.

    I agree with Helen, though. It's okay to use them in first drafts ;)

  5. I know about adverbs but I agree with what Helen said-- I tend to write them when writing a lot and then I have to remember to go back and get rid of them. I tend to use Really too often:))

  6. I agree! A weakness of mine, but something I look out for in the edits.

  7. For sure! All bets are off while writing the first draft. If we worry about technique for the first draft we'll get nowhere.

  8. Just came across your blog ~ great post & so true!


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