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Thursday, November 5, 2009

AFFECTING WORDS: The Dreaded Adverb

This is from a series of small filler articles I once did for the writers' magazine Writers' Journal. Most of those who follow this blog, I suspect, have heard this warning about the danger of adverbs before but a little reminder never hurt. Besides, I just had an e-mail conversation who had heard about the dreaded adverg and assumed it meant never to use them. Adverbs can be handy! They just need to be examined as part of the editing process!

The Dreaded Adverb:

Adverbs are a headache, if only because we love them so much. I use the “find” function in my word processor to seek them out, and carefully examine each one. Oops, one slipped in. I don’t really need “carefully” do I? The word “examine” pretty much tells the story all by itself.

So, before you send anything from a letter to a manuscript to anyone, don’t just do a spell and grammar-check. Extend it to an adverb check. This is what how you use this tool to best advantage:

1. The adverb is an opportunity for a metaphor or simile that fosters an image in the mind of the reader. “Carefully?” Ask yourself “Carefully as what?” Your metaphor might bring beauty or humor to your work. Instead of carefully your subject might be doing an action “like a bloodhound sniffing out a trespassing mutt” (well, it’s my attempt at humor) or “like a rainbow hummingbird checking one the fuchsia, one blossom at a time.”

2. The adverb might be misplaced. “I only write nonfiction on Mondays.” Is that what you mean? Try “I write nonfiction only on Mondays,” or “I write only nonfiction on Mondays.” One has to be closer to your intended meaning than the others.

3. If the awful “ly” word isn’t necessary. Just delete it.

Keep in mind that not all adverbs end in “ly.” You need to be able to spell to make the spell-checker useful; you need to know your grammar for the grammar-check to do its work; ditto for this adverb check. It’s an only an aid. If you need help with adverbs, you might want to sign up for daily posts from grammar teacher, Mr. Johansen. Find him at: And you'll find the list of adverbs that don't end in "ly" in The Frugal Editor, along with lots of other practical editing ideas.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

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