Are Adverbs Really as Bad as Writing Experts Say They Are? Really?
Adverbs: They’re the words every writer tries to avoid as much as possible…well, every writer except me, that is.
Practically every writing advice I have ever read has denounced the use of adverbs. “They weaken your writing.” “They’re worthless and unnecessary.” “They don’t tell the readers anything.” “They’re overused.” “They’re lazy.”
Now, call me an amateur writer, but are adverbs really as bad as writing experts say they are? Really? (This and “very” are two adverbs I’m allegedly never supposed to use.) Of course, it’d be stupid to shove adverbs into literally every sentence ever, but does that mean we should just never use them? I don’t think so. In fact, I think adverbs are very groovy. At least…that’s what I learned from Schoolhouse Rock. And, as the saying goes, “Knowledge is power.”
Adverbs, in case you haven’t gone to school or haven’t watched Schoolhouse Rock (Boy, do I feel incredibly bad for you if that’s the case.), are words that modify verbs and adjectives. In other words, adverbs are basically the adjectives for verbs and, well…adjectives. Got that? Good.
So, when should we use adverbs? When are adverbs necessary, like absolutely necessary? When can they be cut out? Should they be used in literally every sentence? Those are the ultimate questions literally all writers debate about, so let’s talk about them.
I don’t think adverbs should be used in literally every sentence (despite what I’ve been doing here right now wink-wink). In fact, there are times where adverbs are incredibly unnecessary. Here’s an example I’ll use:
“He ran quickly around the playground.”
It looks like a harmless sentence, right? Well, it is. But here’s the thing — the verb “ran” is already implied to be a quick action. “Ran” is literally the definition of “walking quickly”. Therefore, the adverb “quickly” is redundant. If we wanted to portray this sentence in a better way, we can use synonyms for “ran” like —
“He sprinted around the playground.”
“He zoomed around the playground.”
“He zipped around the playground.”
See? We’ve already portrayed the idea in an infinitely better way — three infinitely better ways, in fact. However, what if we used this sentence?
“He ran slowly around the playground.”
Now, what would make this sentence any better than “He ran quickly around the playground.”? It’s the definition of “ran”. Like I’ve said, “ran” is literally the definition of “walking quickly”. Therefore, if we used the adverb “slowly” after “ran”, it ironically adds a twist to the sentence, thus ironically giving the adverb some use in it. Ironic, is it not?
Adverbs are used for emphasizing what we want to convey. “But Emily,” you might be asking, “Isn’t that what adjectives are for?” Yes, but adverbs emphasize not just adjectives but verbs. They can even add a different meaning depending on which one you use. For example —
It’s a simple enough sentence, right? And “laughed” has the implied meaning it’s supposed to have, right? Yes. Now, let’s see what some adverbs can do to this sentence.
“Sally laughed manically.”
“Sally laughed happily.”
“Sally laughed quietly.”
“Sally laughed angrily.”
“Sally laughed somberly.”
And so on and so forth. See how all those adverbs give that previous simple sentence new meanings? We don’t have to use adverbs just for emotions and irony. We can use them to specify how the emotion of a verb/adjective is, where something is, or when something happened. In the amazingly catchy and educational song from Schoolhouse Rock “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” —
How, where, or when
Condition or reason
These questions are answered
When you use an adverb
Let’s use another example and spice things up with a few adverbs.
“Buddy and I painted the house.”
Yet another simply short sentence. Now, using the lyrics we’ve pulled from this amazingly catchy and educational song on Schoolhouse Rock, let’s put some adverbs and give that sentence a little more spice — more specifically, how, where, and when.
“Buddy and I painted the house sloppily.”
“Buddy and I painted the house there.”
“Buddy and painted the house recently.”
Don’t these adverbs do a fantastically great job at giving us more details? I personally think so.
Adverbs are wonderfully useful and fun. Do we need to use them all the time for every sentence? No, that would overdo it and slow the sentence down. However, should we just stop using adverbs altogether? No. While we may not need them all the time, adverbs are positively, very, very necessary when we need to describe how, where, or when — condition or reason. These questions are answered when you use an adverb.