A defense of adverbs

Writing experts have little love for the modifier, but they’re not all bad. Consider these strong adverbs when looking to punch up dull copy.

Adverbs aren’t very popular these days.

We all know how Stephen King regards and Mark Twain regarded them. English teachers, writing coaches, and would-be authors advise everyone to avoid them. J.K. Rowling—best-selling author and creator of the “Harry Potter” series—has been criticized relentlessly for her use of them.

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at adverbs, the most maligned of the parts of speech.

Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They describe how, when, where, and how much.

Ex: “I was soundly beaten the last time I played Scrabble.

The disdain many writers and editors have for adverbs often occurs when adverbs are used with the word “said.” Here are a few examples.

Ex: “You cheated. That’s the only way you could have won,” I said angrily.

In this example the adverb angrily modifies the word “said.” However, a stronger verb would remove the need for the adverb.

Ex: “You cheated. That’s the only way you could have won,” I barked.

The stronger verb “barked” provides more value.

Yet, what if the first sentence used a stronger adverb?

Ex: “You cheated. That’s the only way you could have won,” I said crossly.

Which is the better sentence, the second or third?

Writers shouldn’t necessarily avoid adverbs altogether; they must choose them judiciously. Opt for precise and descriptive wordings over meaningless and unimaginative phrases.

Also, don’t use too many of them. It’s okay to leave “said” as “said.”

Below are a few examples of strong adverbs. These may not work in every context, but they can add variety to your writing.

  • Anxiously
  • Ardently
  • Atrociously
  • Bleakly
  • Breathlessly
  • Crossly
  • Dimly
  • Disdainfully
  • Defiantly
  • Earnestly
  • Elegantly
  • Evasively
  • Exuberantly
  • Fervently
  • Grimly
  • Harmoniously
  • Hopelessly
  • Incoherently
  • Indifferently
  • Inexorably
  • Inwardly
  • Languidly
  • Mockingly
  • Modestly
  • Neighborly
  • Relentlessly
  • Repulsively
  • Rigidly
  • Scarcely
  • Sheepishly
  • Somberly
  • Sparsely
  • Spitefully
  • Sullenly
  • Tacitly
  • Tartly
  • Vainly
  • Voluntarily
  • Waywardly

Do you have any favorite adverbs to share? Please post them below.

Laura Hale Brockway is a writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life on PR Daily and at impertinentremarks.com.

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