Authors Answer 126 – Is It Really Possible to Stop Using Adverbs?

Adverbs are something that people love to use in everyday speech. It’s very popular. But what about in writing? Do we really need to avoid using adverbs? Honestly?

Question 126 – Never use adverbs. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Tracey Lynn Tobin

Disagree. I will concur that many writers these days rely far too heavily on adverbs, leaning on them instead of putting the effort into creating more descriptive prose. That said, every form of word has it’s place, and you can’t just discount adverbs all together. “Show, don’t tell,” is what’s often said, and I agree with that for the most part, but sometimes what is necessary for a scene is for the author to tell the reader exactly what’s happening. For example, if the narrating character has been struck blind for some reason, they’re not going to be able to describe the facial expressions or body language of whomever they’re talking to, so saying that someone said something “sadly” is a perfectly reasonable way to go about the scene. As with any writing method, we simply have to avoid abusing adverbs and use them only when they are necessary or work better with a particular sentence.

Gregory S. Close

Never use an adverb stupidly.  (I could not resist).

I don’t believe in absolute rules of writing like “never use an adverb.” However, I do believe that any time you use an adverb you should consider whether you’re expressing what you want in the best way possible.  Adverbs can be a short cut, and short cuts can be awesome in telling your story.  But if you use too many short cuts, it’s a little less awesome.  So, consider adverbs like seasoning – a little can go a long way, if you’re using the correct spice.

Jean Davis

Disagree. Adverbs add flavor when used sparingly.

C E Aylett

Oh dear, not that question again. Why doesn’t anyone ask about the use of adjectives? (Don’t over use them; don’t overstuff a sentence with them before a noun. Certainly don’t list them. That is how pedestrian description comes about.)

Don’t use weak adverbs (really/actually). Use adverbs when they make an impact on the meaning of the verb and twist it into something special/memorable. Make a list of unusual and strong adverbs (unequivocally/knavishly)  and keep them nearby. Slam unusual combinations together (he spoke haphazardly) When revising a piece, think about whether you need the adverbs you have and where you can either delete them or swap a weak one for one of the  more unusual ones on your list to make interesting contrasts.

In saying that, there will always be some adverbs that slip in through the net. As long as they are not overdone, why stress it?

Beth Aman

I would say use adverbs sparingly.  Adverbs tend to slow down the story, and often times they’re redundant.  It’s often better to use a strong verb instead of a weak verb with an adverb.  But there are times adverbs are useful; it’s your job to take them out when they’re not.

Eric Wood

I wouldn’t say “never”. However, I would say use them with care and caution. Be sure the adverb you’re using isn’t redundant. If the verb already states or implies the action then there’s no need to say how it was done. When you start using too many adverbs you get into telling the reader instead of showing the reader.
He ran quickly. The adverb, quickly, is lazy and simply restating what was already said. If the character is running, we already know he’s moving quickly. Instead, you should show how quickly. His legs pumped like the pistons of a racecar as he ran. Sometimes an adverb will be helpful. He lovingly whispered, “Take your clothes off.” This gives us an understanding how he did it. If you substitute the word “menacingly” for “lovingly” you get a completely different scene. There’s a reason a picture is worth a thousands words. It takes more words to show instead of tell, but it will be well worth it.

D. T. Nova

Never is such a strong word. It is good advice to avoid adverbs with vague verbs when a more specific verb would be understood, but that doesn’t mean that averbs are never the best choice.

Cyrus Keith

Never say never. But limit, limit, LIMIT!!! -Ly adverbs can often be a trap leading to lazy, sluggish writing. Why us “walk quickly” when “march” or “pace” not only save space but portray an attitude as well? I try to not use them, but occasionally a need arises where to not use one only leads to verbal acrobatics that scream, “HEY, everybody! He’s trying not to use an -ly adverb here!” But let’s just look at an absurd example.

Mark walked quickly to the dresser. He quickly took the gun and raised it. He pointed it at Steve. “Stop,” he said loudly.

Compare that to
“Mark charged for the dresser. The gun seemed to leap into his hand. Pointing it at Steve, he roared, “Stop!”

H. Anthe Davis

Why do we have adverbs if we’re not allowed to use them?  Use whatever kinds of words you want, however much you want.  Maybe some people will judge you for them, but writing is an artistic pursuit.  Absolutely listen to constructive criticism, but if you can’t abide by the changes suggested, just shrug them off.  There is no roadmap to the perfect story, no bullet-pointed outline that can make something automatically good or bad.  You’re the writer.  Do what feels right to you.

Paul B. Spence

Since it is impossible, I disagree. Everything in moderation is a much better approach.

Elizabeth Rhodes

I totally disagree. See what I did there? Every word in our language has a place, and the same goes for parts of speech. Now, there are plenty of occasions where the adverb/verb combination can be replaced with a more concise verb, but that doesn’t mean that’s the rule all the time.

Jay Dee Archer

I disagree. Adverbs can be incredibly useful when used correctly. As you can see, I already used some adverbs. There are times when adverbs are the most appropriate words to use. Rules like this are heard many times, but you shouldn’t say never. Of course, there are many times when you can use a better verb than a simple verb and modifying adverb. But not always. This would be better advice: It doesn’t matter what part of language it is, use it when appropriate, but don’t avoid it completely.

How about you?

How do you feel about this rule? Is it necessary to avoid anything in writing? Let us know in the comments section below.

12 thoughts on “Authors Answer 126 – Is It Really Possible to Stop Using Adverbs?”

  1. Ever notice how people who scream “Never use adverbs!” seem to assume that the only adverbs in the world are the ones ending in -ly? “Not” is an adverb. So is “never,” for that matter. ANY word that modifies a verb is an adverb. I’m not in favor of adding an -ly word to every dialogue tag, but to say that all adverbs, all the time, are Bad Writing is nonsense. Let the “Never use adverbs!” parrots — I mean people — first prove it can be done… by showing, not telling, of course.

    1. In writing, I don’t think there are any absolute rules. One of the most ridiculous ones I’ve seen someone say is to never use adjectives. How dull a world that must be without colour, size, and shape. Of course, there are other ways to describe those, but that is unnecessarily wordy (I used an adverb).

      1. I’ve even seen the reasoning for “Never use adjectives” given as “Adjectives are always just your opinion, and you should be objective at all times when writing.” Yeah, because it’s only my OPINION that my cat Doodle has black (that’s an adjective) fur, right? *shakes head*

        My current “favorite” attempt to avoid adverbing is to write “with speed” instead of “quickly” or “rapidly,” as in, “The door opened with speed.”

        1. A lot of adjectives are definitely not subjective. How that person could’ve made that statement makes me wonder what they consider to be opinion.

  2. Fun fact: NOT counting the ones used as examples of what not to do, there are about a dozen adverbs in Stephen King’s famous, short essay on why adverbs are bad.

      1. Yeah, but so is his advice about writing scary fiction: ‘The best thing is to terrify, but if you can’t do that, horrify. Only as a last resort should you go for the gross-out.’ Seems to me that Mr. King went for that last resort more than should have been necessary.

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