In Defense of the Adverb

Adverbs are becoming increasingly unfashionable. Current writing lore holds that readers feel insulted by the use of an adverb, as if a writer were saying, “I didn’t think that you were smart enough to figure out how the character felt after he slipped on dog poo, and so I used the word, ‘disgustedly.’ ”

Why, after several hundred years of just enjoying a good read, readers have decided to take umbrage at this particular part of speech is hard to say, but there are three drawbacks to eliminating them, in my opinion.

1. A lack of adverbs can cause disruption of the reader’s immersion in a story.

When the reader is left to assume things for himself, he might misinterpret a situation, which can lead to the need for an abrupt readjustment later on.

For example:

Howard scraped the bottom of his shoe on the edge of the pavement. “That’s it,” he said. “Fido, we’re going for a ride.”

As Fido sat in the back of the convertible, ears flying, he wondered at Howard’s tone. He suspected that his owner was disgusted by the unfortunate incident during their walk, but was he angry, too?

The car pulled into a parking lot and Howard opened the door. “Come on, boy.”

Fido hopped out and followed his master into a small white building. Cages along the walls were filled with dogs and cats. Howard stopped at a counter and a careworn woman in a white uniform came out from the back room. Fido didn’t like her smell.

“May I help you?” she asked.

Fido’s heart suddenly beat faster. Was this the dog pound? He had heard about this place from Fluffy, the dog next door. She’d told him that when owners get mad at their pets, they take them to the pound and have them put to sleep. Fido hadn’t believed her, but now he wasn’t so sure.

“Do you sell those really long leashes that zip back when you push a button?” Howard inquired. “This one is so short that he poops on the sidewalk!”

“Aisle three,” the lady answered.

Fido felt so silly!

2. The lack of adverbs denies the reader the joy of nuance, or degree.

It might be obvious that a character is mad, but HOW mad? Let’s take another look at Howard, using some adverbs:

Howard looked disgustedly at the dog poop on his brand new sneaker. Ironically, he realized that if he’d started the day’s errands at the pet shop instead of the shoe store, this wouldn’t have happened. Howard scraped the bottom of his shoe on the edge of the pavement. “That’s it,” he said wryly. “Fido, we’re going for a ride.”

Fido knew exactly how Howard felt.

3. Removing adverbs dumbs-down a book.

Adverbs are supposedly sacrificed to make things more straightforward for the reader, which in essence makes it easier to read.  In Microsoft Word, there is a little tool called the Flesch-Kincaid Scale (part of the spell check), which reflects the approximate grade level of your work.

“That’s it,” he said wryly. “Fido, we’re going for a ride.” scores a 5.8, whereas “That’s it,” he said. “Fido, we’re going for a ride.” comes in at 0.5.

To me, not using adverbs is as if a writer were saying, “I didn’t think that you were smart enough to understand a complex sentence, and so I just left a few words out. Kind of like a text message.”



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5 responses to “In Defense of the Adverb

  1. Susan Gainous

    “Hooray for the adverb! Please don’t take them away,” she said adamantly.

  2. I second your defense of the adverb! I use them when needed and will continue to. Excellent examples. 🙂

  3. Layinda, you put a smile on my face. I greatly enjoy well written adverbs. When they are used properly, they can add so much depth to the writing. It is only when they are used solely for telling purposes that I want to immediately eradicate them from my writing.

    Great examples!

  4. The test message part cracked me up–I needed that, thanks.

    And there is no way I am weighing in on adverbs. No way, no how!

  5. Shawna

    LOVED THIS!!! I am a huge fan of adverbs and felt as if a piece of my soul was being deleted when I removed about 90% of them from my MS! 😉

    Here’s to adverb! *lifting my pretend wine glass*
    (Ok, I don’t drink wine and it’s only 10:30 in the morning, but you get the idea)

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