Thoughts on the Old 'Avoid Adverbs' Advice

A lot of people go on and on about why writers should avoid adverbs. Then, in response, a lot of other people go on and on about how stupid the first group’s advice is, citing countless examples of adverbs used by the best writers. Often, too, they cite examples of the anti-adverbs people using adverbs.

Who’s right? They both are. Who’s wrong? They both are. And the whole stupid argument occurs only because the anti-adverbs people overstated their case or the anti-anti-adverbs people took the other guys out of context.

When a writing teacher tells students to avoid adverbs, there’s a good reason. That teacher has seen over and over how adverbs undermine amateur writers' work.

But when someone takes the “avoid adverbs” advice too seriously, when then, obviously, the advice is silly. Adverbs exist for a reason.

Here are some real examples of one amateur writer’s adverbs.

“Relentlessly, people began to pour out of the black mouth of the building.”

“Gus quickly grabbed his flamethrower.”

“Gus looked down at the small creature that had recently tried to end his life.”

“Gus watched the reflections from the city’s streetlights float across the windshield for several blocks before he finally spoke.”

And here’s one that I see a lot editing feature articles for newspapers.

“Jackson is currently president and CEO of Widgets, Inc.”

By deleting “relentlessly,” “quickly,” “recently,” “finally,” and “currently” from the above sentences, you lose nothing. In fact, the streamlined effect you get is actually a gain, making the sentences’ remaining words more impactful.

It’s my firm belief that every manner adverb should be subjected to the “take it out” test. If, by taking the adverb out of the sentence, you lose nothing, keep it out. If, on the other hand, you lose some important bit of information, then by all means put the adverb back in.

That way, you benefit from the wisdom of both warring parties without falling into a stupid debate.

Tags: ,

One Response to “Thoughts on the Old 'Avoid Adverbs' Advice”