Improve your writing by slashing adverbs–Here’s how


Today’s educational and enlightening guest post is from the creative mind at My Literary Quest, authored by Utah resident “tsujigiri.” I feel an immediate kinship with this writer; like me, she has had a story to tell for more than a decade and is finally pursuing her dream of writing a fiction novel. Her distractions are/were similar to mine… travel, husband, kids, work, life. But, at some point, our creative spirits must lead us back to expression–be it writing, dancing, photography, painting… whatever makes the heart sing. Now, onto tsujigir’s lesson on adverb usage!

She noted how “every writing book (she’d) read” offers this bit of advice to help strengthen writing – eliminate adverbs.  In her excellent post, tsujigiri refreshes our memories on what makes an adverb and explore why they should be avoided.

Adverb basics:

Put simply, an adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.  They can also be used to modify whole sentences and prepositional phrases.  Clear as mud, I know.  Let’s have some examples:  (Adverbs are in bold. Words modified are italicized.)

  • Modify a verb:
    • She walked slowly.
    • They ate quietly.
  • Modify an adjective:
    • He was incrediblyhandsome.
    • The tree is very old.
  • Modify another adverb:
    • The dog ran very quickly down the street.
    • Martha hugged her Grandma really tightly.
  • Modify a whole sentence
    • Obviouslyhe can’t have seen us.
  • Modify a prepositional phrase
    • They found the locket just under the bed.

Most adverbs are created by adding the -ly ending to an adjective.

  • slowly, painfully, quickly, handsomely, strongly, etc.

However some do not, such as:

  • still, well, never, fast, very, always, often, just.

Why do editors cringe when they see an adverb?
Adverbs are red flags, they replace concrete descriptions or phrases with words that don’t hold real meaning.  Let’s take a look:

Adverb-y writing: She badly needed a smoke.  Slowly she peeked around the wall of her cubicle. Seeing no one, she quietly left the room.

We can do better than that.

Using visuals instead of adverbs: She craved a smoke.  Standing on her toes, she peeked over the edge of the cubicle and saw the corridor was empty.  Carltons in hand, she slid off her high-heels and padded to the exit.

Do you see the difference?  We went from ordinary to interesting by switching the adverbs for concrete images.

You can do it too!

tsujigiri also notes: This post is an extreme example of ridding writing of weak adverbs to make it stronger.  I’m not advocating the elimination of all adverbs.  My goal is to find ways people can use to make writing better.)

Material for adverb usage courtesy of

To see tsujigiri‘s past Grammarland posts go here.

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