Are Adverbs Really Bad?

While reviewing several blogs recently, I found  a few articles badmouthing adverbs.

stephen king on adverbs

“An adverb is a word that changes the meaning of the verb, adjective or another adverb. Using the previous tip, your verb will annul the need for an adverb.”  From “My Golden Rules to ‘Show don’t Tell” by Leona Brigs in Medium.

“3. The road to hell is paved with good intentions… and adverbs.”  From “Five Super Easy Ways to Improve Your Blogs” by Christian Mihai in the Art of Blogging.

Are words ending in “ly” really ugly and totally worthless?

Barbara Baig offered a counter argument in an August 18, 2015 guest post for Writer’s Digest.

Not too long ago, on Facebook, aspiring MFAs were proudly announcing that they had spent entire revision sessions excising from their manuscripts every word ending in “-ly.” Quoting Stephen King (who was perhaps quoting Nathaniel Hawthorne), they assured each other that The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs. Well, with all due respect to Mr. King and Mr. Hawthorne, it just ain’t so.

To begin with, an adverb is not merely a word that happens to end in -ly. An adverb is one of the four content parts of speech (the others are nouns, verbs, and adjectives) which enable us to construct sentences. Every part of speech does something in a sentence: nouns name things, verbs provide action, adjectives and adverbs add to or limit or clarify the nouns and verbs. A writer determined to eliminate adverbs will be a seriously handicapped writer, for adverbs can make more specific, add information to, not only verbs, but also adjectives and other adverbs. Adverbs, like the other content parts of speech, are an essential for every writer’s toolkit; they can do things that the other parts of speech cannot.

Adverbs in dialog seem to be one of the favorite places for adverb haters.
From Brainpickings “Stephen King on Writing, Fear and the Atrocity of Adverbs

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

Oviously, adverbs are redundant to the strong verb.

How about as  the topic sentence for a paragraph?

When I saw the teenager and the young child approaching the pool, I mistakingly thought that the young child would be the problem.  The teenager splashed the younger child when ever the child lifted his head for air as he methodically swam back and forth and in the lane.  The child ignored the droplets that hit his face whenever he lifted it above the water.  Later at the hot tub’s edge, the younger child dangled his feet as the he sat quietly next to his father.  The teenager sat on the top step between the handles of the hot tub until his father told him to move.  He sidled under the handles to the oppostite side of the ladder before edging back to the middle of the steps.  As I exited the hot tub, his father grunted at him to move.  The teen ager did so reluctantly and sat back down almost immediately,  his back brushing  my calf before I could climb over the the top step.

Do you think that adverbs should be vanquished like yesterday’s tunafish left too long in the sun?




29 thoughts on “Are Adverbs Really Bad?”

  1. I recently read a bunch of Shirley Jackson short stories, and her prose is full of adverbs. Did they bother me? No. But in purple prose they do bother me. I guess it just comes down to whether or not I like the style of writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s all part of making the most use of your words. Perfectly placed adverbs can add impact with less words. Unfortunately there are many writers who rely upon them too heavily, and it hurts the prose. Those writers who use them with skill rise above those who use them out of convenience. Those are the writers giving adverbs a bad rap – hence the anti-adverb rants we hear and for good reason.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I agree with H.A. Callum. Used well, adverbs improve a piece of writing. The trouble is, there’s no formula for good writing. That’s why so many of these “rules,” especially those that forbid the use of specific words (like “was,” for example 😀) aren’t all that useful.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m not a purist, but I think one has to look at the purpose. The last example might read Utterson said with contempt, thus obviating the need to ly. My own view is that they work in poetry, but often are cumbersome in prose.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Here, here for the adverb! I happen to love adverbs when used judiciously. Yes, adverbs are overused by some writers, but to proclaim that all adverbs are bad (as King does) is just plain wrong. Next thing you know, famous writers will declare the adjective is a sign of bad writing. As your followers commented above, good writing is good writing. Writers should follow the rules that work for them (or, conversely, not follow the rules that don’t work for them).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think anything in excess is problematic, including rules that adverbs should all be edited out. Every writer has their own right to style and voice. I like adverbs, they seem poetic to me vs mechanical, robotical writing. Interesting that the both King and Hawthorn are male writers, I’ll include Hemingway with their dislike of adverbs to an extreme.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judy, a most interesting and insightful comment about how male writers seem to dislike adverbs more than female. (I’ll steer clear of any dangling hypothesis.) You are correct about each writer having his/her own style and voice. Maybe the all things in moderation is a possible compromise. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I love Stephen King but I suppose everybody has their own style and some are redundant and they are liked. I would not erase adverbs , they are as useful as verbs … just have to use them wisely( I’m still learning that😉)

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.