This Business of Writing

Tips to Eliminate Unnecessarily Overused Adverbs

In Editing Your Manuscript, The Craft of Writing on November 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Aspiring authors always hear about the need to reduce adverbs, but just how might that be done?

First, let’s define the word, “adverb.” Dictionary.com defines them as, (are you ready for this?), “any member of a class of words that in many languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by the ending -ly, or by functioning as modifiers of verbs or clauses, and in some languages, as Latin and English, also as modifiers of adjectives or other adverbs or adverbial phrases, as very, well, quickly. Adverbs typically express some relation of place, time, manner, attendant circumstance, degree, cause, inference, result, condition, exception, concession, purpose, or means.”

Come on, guys! Let’s whittle this down to say they are modifiers of verbs, generally, usually, often words ending in –ly. Ah, that’s much more understandable.

Let’s take a look at how this plays into our writing.

If you read the title of this post, you’ll notice two modifiers of the word, “Adverbs.” They are, “Unnecessarily” and “Overused.” Could this title have been written without the adverbs and still make sense? Sure. Tips on Eliminating Adverbs makes perfect sense. So, too, it must be in your writing. Eliminate as many of your adverbs as possible for better writing.

Should you eliminate all adverbs? Perhaps not, but each should be studied to ensure they add to the quality of your writing. As we’ve all learned by way of earlier posts to this blog, the “rules” of writing are actually only guidelines, but if you put this maxim to good use it will improve your writing.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, shall we?

The sun slowly set over the horizon.

How important is the word, “slowly,” in this example? Not much. Everyone knows a sun set isn’t immediate. If that word were eliminated the writing would be crisper and the concept of the event would not be lost.

Now compare these two sentences.

“She laughingly brushed off his comment.”

“With a laugh, she brushed off his comment.”

If you read them aloud, you’ll find no change in the meaning, but rather a dramatic alteration to the cadence, or the music of the words. Which is the better written? (“B”, is your correct answer.) The difference may be subtle to many, but the importance of this technique over a novel length manuscript will accumulate dramatically, ah, in a dramatic fashion.

Here’s one more example:

“Begrudgingly, he admitted she was correct.”

“With a begrudge, he admitted she was correct.”

We see here the easy alteration turned out worse than the original. In lieu, try something like this.

“He admitted she was correct, though he felt bitter at having to acknowledge the fact.”

Which of the three sentences reads better to you? This illustration shows how difficult the correct rewording might be. Regardless, the lesson here is to edit each individual adverb for elimination or replacement.

As to when to edit your adverbs, I can only tell you how I do it. I wait until the first, or even the third, draft is complete then I use my Find function to locate all “ly” words. I then evaluate the individual adverbs for options as to how better reword the sentence for more compelling writing.

Until my next post, my all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”


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  1. I love adverbs; therefore, none of your propaganda will trick me into removing any of them.

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  3. Actually. On my BB. Sorry.

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