Seven deadly adverbs you should cut from your writing

Adverbs aren’t just those -ly words that describe actions. They’re a broader class of words that includes “therefore,” “outside” and “tomorrow.” Any word that answers the question “where,” “when” or “in what manner” is probably an adverb. The “manner adverbs” we learned about in school are just a subset. When you want to know whether a word is an adverb, check a dictionary, skimming all its entries for each part of speech — noun, adjective, adverb — that applies.

Adverbs can modify whole sentences. There’s a myth that it’s wrong to say, “Hopefully, I’ll win the lottery” because it suggests that you will in fact win the lottery and you’ll do so in a hopeful manner. The idea is that adverbs can only describe actions, so “hopefully” must be describing how you will win. But adverbs can also modify whole sentences.

“Flat adverbs” let you drop the -ly. “Walk slow” and “drive safe” aren’t grammatical errors because “slow” and “safe” are flat adverbs. In formal speech and writing, these flat adverbs may not be your best choice. But they’re not wrong.

Adverbs that don’t add information should probably be cut. Compare “Matt quickly rushed out of the room” with “Stan quickly closed his laptop.” The first gains nothing from the adverb “quickly.” Rushing is, by definition, quick. But you can close a laptop at any speed, so “quickly” opens up an intriguing possibility: Stan has something to hide. Put every adverb to this test: If it adds information, it can stay. If it adds only emphasis, consider chopping it.

Here's my recent column on the seven deadly adverbs that fail that test.

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