Adverbs!

This week we discuss adverbs.  Adverbs are sentence elements that are used to modify verbs, clauses, and other adverbs, and can often be identified by the ending “–ly.”  They tell you how someone did something, e.g.,

  • The Scribe scanned his opponent’s brief, quickly noting the arguments.
  • While the Whos slept, the Grinch quietly stole their treats.
  • For now we see through a glass, darkly.

“Most adverbs,” says writing advisor William Zinsser, “are unnecessary.”  While that’s true, the Scribe is not a total curmudgeon when it comes to the use of adverbs in expository writing.  For example, we can join two independent sentences together using conjunctive adverbs (accordingly, also, consequently, however, indeed, likewise, nevertheless, otherwise, similarly, therefore—to name a few):

  • John Steinbeck was raised in Salinas; accordingly, many of his stories were based on the people and places in Salinas.
  • Ted Williams wanted to be known as the best hitter that ever lived; consequently, he worked at his hitting craft until he perfected it.

Really, adverbs are not inherently bad.  But when they’re overused, they clutter sentences, annoy readers, and add little to the argument.  So, since adverbs are easily overused, use them sparingly.  Don’t use them when the verb already is doing the work—and the adverb is redundant, e.g.,

  • The car alarm shrieked loudly.
  • Dropped in the river, the stone plunged quickly to the bottom.

How can an alarm shriek, except loudly?  How can a stone plunge, except quickly?  Since the verb is already doing the work, skip the redundant and annoying adverb. 

There are times, however, when an adverb usefully conveys important information.  Consider these examples:

  • The car quickly approached the corner, and crashed.
  • The player knowingly took a performance enhancing drug, and competed in the Olympics.
  • The Scribe quickly walked to court, because he was late.

The bottom line: as with all parts of speech, be sure that you know why you are using an adverb.  If you conclude that it is unnecessary, skip it.  But if it helps convey information to your reader, then use it confidently!

That is all for now …

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