Thursday 24 December 2015

Adverbs - the truth

There is a war raging against the adverb. You see it everywhere if you dip your toe into the writing world online: memes, writing tips, all of them telling you not to use them ever! Not if you want to call yourself a writer! 

Even prolific writers add to this hate campaign. Here is, my favourite author Stephen King, talking about them: 

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it's - GASP!! - too late.” (Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)  

‘Oh no, I hear you cry, ‘what are these words, how do I spot them and take them all out?!’

But I am here to counter this harsh campaign and explain to you why they exist.

An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective or another adverb. They explain the action of those words by answering questions like: how, how often, when and where. 

How: easily, happily, loudly, quickly, quietly, sadly, silently, slowly; 

How often: always, every day, frequently, never, often, once, seldom, sometimes; 

When: after, before, early, now, since, soon, today, yesterday; 

Where: away, everywhere, here, inside, near, outside, there; 

See? There are lots of them, and just to be difficult, they don’t all end in ‘ly’!

Despite all the hate speech about them, they are a necessary part of language. Read any children’s books and you will find them everywhere.

And regardless of the above quote, Mr King uses them too – pick up any of his novels and you will find them (as I did to share these):

Just after Sunset: “There were Seven Stones again.” 

Under the Dome: He started away, and then looked back.” 

Under the Dome: “It would probably fix his headaches a lot better …” 

Sleep: “He ate it all. Slowly.” 

The trick with adverbs isn’t to simply remove all of them, but to become aware of them and how you use them in your writing, and ask yourself if they are necessary.

You can Google lists of adverbs to familiarise yourself with them, but here are a few that are used to provide emphasis. These are considered ‘empty’ adverbs and could (some say ‘should’) be taken out: 

Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally. 

But as with everything else in life, the key to using adverbs is moderation.

One of the best ways to practice economy of words it through writing flash fiction, where you have to cut a piece down to its bare essentials, taking out anything superfluous, and questioning any description you use.

But ease up on the old adverb; it’s not all bad – really. 😉

What are your thoughts and feelings on adverbs? Let me know in the comments.

Find more editing tip posts HERE.


  1. Here, here! LOVE On Writing, but man it gave me a complex, especially since the first half of the book breaks EVERY rule in the second half. Still read it every year, complex or no complex. =)

  2. Adverbs are necessary in my archaic omniscient style. Removing them makes my writing uglier than before.

  3. I chop half of them out when I weed through my drafts. Gotta keep some! ☺️