Some adverbs deserve to die

“Avoid adverbs” is a popular bit of writing advice. There's some wisdom there, but the it’s usually applied too broadly and sometimes interpreted as “all adverbs are bad.” That, of course, is ridiculous. Adverbs are essential parts of speech, and even the much maligned manner adverbs — the ones that modify verbs and often end in “ly” — can be just what a piece of writing needs to make it sing.

 Even so, there are some adverbs that I kill on sight. Anytime one of these crops up in an article I’m editing (or when I catch it in my own writing), I delete it without hesitation.

Truly. Formerly. Currently. Absolutely. Definitely. Utterly.

These are the pudgy, overpaid middle managers of language. They contribute nothing and are almost always dispensable.

 Consider the sentence: Peterson is currently the CEO of the company.

Editors see stuff like that a lot. And all the editors I know agree that currently adds nothing whatsoever to this sentence. Formerly, which often goes hand-in- hand with the verb was, is no better. The verb is already in the past tense. So the reader doesn’t need to be told the situation is former.

Truly, absolutelydefinitely, really and utterly say a mouthful. Unfortunately, their message boils down to, “I really, really, really want you believe the thing I’m about to say.” Ironically, that makes the statement that follows seem less plausible.

For these adverbs — and any other that adds no new information whatsoever to a sentence — we can justify applying the old “Shoot first and let God sort ’em out” philosophy.

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