Some Papal Reflections on Adjectives and Adverbs


In a recent speech to his communications staff, Pope Francis had a lot to say about adjectives and adverbs, citing examples of writing he’s “allergic to,” like “This is something authentically Christian” and “this is truly so.”

Then he noted: “We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns … This is a mission of communication: to communicate with reality, without sweetening with adjectives or adverbs.”

If you’re looking for nits to pick in the pope’s statements, you’ll find them. “Authentically Christian,” you could argue, draws a contrast with the inauthentic kind. Also (and this is no small nit), in the sentence “This is something authentically Christian,” the word “Christian” is itself an adjective.

Still, his core idea — that adjectives and adverbs can dilute the power of the words they modify — just happens to be true. Sometimes.

Some adjectives and adverbs add nothing but emphasis, like “awesome” in “The awesome power of this cleaning product blows me away.” Those can usually be nixed.

Others, especially when they appear in the predicate of the sentence, convey information you can’t take out. “This new cleaning product is awesome.”

Here's my recent column on how to best use this advice.


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