Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To adverb, or not to adverb

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know about the evil adverb. It's a horrible part of speech and you should purge it from your writing as often as possible. In fact, Jessie over at Little Bonobo's Book Cafe has a fantastic post on the dos and don'ts of adverbs. It is far more intensive than I ever plan to be on the subject, so you should definitely go check it out.

Anyway, let's paint a special, adverbial scenario: Your sentence is sexy. Your verb is particularly sexy. You know what you're doing and the wording is strong. But there's still that pesky adverb and you're not sure whether it's good or not.

Well, 99% of the time, your adverb needs to go. There's a better way to phrase your sentence. Trust me. However, there's that pesky 1% left over and the only way to tell if your adverb is a lucky winner, is to start asking yourself some questions.

Is the adverb superfluous? Does it tell the reader anything new and fresh? Does it throw contrast onto the verb, or does it make everything super repetitive? Is there a reason that your adverb needs to be there?

Let's look at some examples and I'll show you what I mean:

    Bad Adverb: She hissed angrily.
    Why is "angrily" a bad adverb in this instance? Because the verb "hissed" already has the connotation of anger or displeasure. When you're saying that someone "hissed angrily," you're being redundant. Which is lame.

    Good Adverb: She hissed lovingly.
    Why is "lovingly" so much better than "angrily"? Because it makes no sense! While many readers can innately determine that a hiss is angry, that's not that case when your hiss is loving. A loving hiss is unique.

Hopefully I'm not talking gibberish here--I kind of feel like I am whenever I start babbling on grammar. What I'm trying to say is that the best thing an adverb can do is throw new meaning onto a verb. Make your adverbs work and put new meaning into your sentences. If your adverb is a contradiction, you have a good case for keeping it around.

So how do you feel about adverbs? Do you cut and slice them away at every possible moment, or do you lavish them on with loving care? Do you agree or disagree with what I'm saying? Tell me in the comments!


Brenna Braaten said...

I agree with that! And, I want to know a situation where you hiss lovingly. It's got me all sorts of interested. I need to remember to cut my adverbs.

Sarah Robertson said...

I was thinking that some evil villain, maybe close to our hero in some way, could hiss lovingly. Like, right before shanking him.

Brenna Braaten said...

Ah. I can see that. Such a fantastic idea maker-upper you are. I like it. I demand you use it.

Brenna Braaten said...

Good. Do it. Naow FOOl! (@squidinksarah )

Sarah Robertson said...

Haha, I'll keep it in mind. :)

Boudica said...

Brilliant idea. I totally agree that sometimes, there are adverbs you just can't bring yourself to finish off, and I think some of those earn their spots. The sentence you crafted is a great example.

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