You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

She pointed at her chart, “Your adverb count is too high.”

My breath caught in my throat, “Is that bad?”

The doctor took off her glasses, and looked me in the eyes, “P.S., it’s going to kill your writing.”

I groaned, and my head became a half-ton heavier.

“It gets worse. Your adverb abuse is driving up your word count. It’s boring your readers. People are putting down your stories before they even finish them.”

I was dizzy. I had to sit down.

“It’s not too late, though. If we act quickly, we can operate on your writing, we can cut out the words that are clotting your flow. You can still save yourself.”

What is an adverb anyway?

She pulled a pamphlet out of the rack on the wall, “Do you know what an adverb is, P.S.?”

“Vaguely…”

“Adverbs are usually words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. You probably know them as words that end in ‘-ly’, but there are many types of adverbs. Words like ‘then’ and ‘quite’ and ‘very’ are also adverbs. Here’s a pamphlet on the different types of adverbs.

A Writing Epidemic

“Doctor, what is wrong with all of these adverbs?”

Her eyes widened, “You mean you don’t know? Didn’t they teach you anything in school?”

I shrugged, sheepishly, “I might have been asleep.”

Writers,” she spat. “OK, listen up. Adverb abuse is a widespread problem among writers, new and old. When you think you need to further describe an action, you often use an adverb. For example, ‘the dog runs’ turns into ‘the dog runs haphazardly’.

When you do this, you’re making a mistake.

You, and many writers like you are appending adverbs to other words because you are using the wrong word. Instead of ‘the dog runs haphazardly’ you could have said, ‘the dog careened’ or ‘the dog barreled’.Either of those shows what the dog is doing better than using an adverb.”

“Doctor, are all adverbs bad?”

She slapped her clipboard onto the table, “No! Are you even listening? Adverbs are necessary! Cutting out all adverbs would be like cutting fat out of your diet.

You need to ask yourself this: Do I need this adverb? Is there a better way to state this? Can I show this with a different word, or does the adverb make the most sense here?”

“Thank you Doctor! Will this help me get more readers?”

“I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker.”


Writing Challenge: You and a friend are sneaking around in the night, when you stumble across a group of authorities, doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Write this without using more than one “-ly” for every fifty words.

Try to avoid using ‘very’, ‘then’, and other adverbs that slow down your pacing.

K R Thoroughgood of Uncertain Tales responded to last week’s post ‘How to Write like a Girl’ with an engaging piece called ‘Girls Night In’. Give it a read!

Don’t forget to Follow, Like, or Comment below, because I love to respond.

28 thoughts on “You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

  1. I agree with all the wonderfully written comments here.. :)…i liked them very much…i, too, am truly, deeply, incredibly honored that you shared this with us..keep up the awesome, funny work! and thanks for the link to the learning English site, it’s something i desperately need right now! my favorite over-used word in my writing is ‘just’ – now if i could just figure out how to not use it so much…it’s so damn hard…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are adverbs that don’t end in ‘ly’ too, so be careful about how frequently you use those when actively avoiding any adverbs with ‘ly’. Sometimes my writing gets really heavy with “almost”, “more”, “less” and such.
    Very useful advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The pamphlet was just like that pamphlet that says “All the things you are doing cause cancer, and it’s ten years too late to stop doing them.”

    Adverbs of time and place are in EVERY SENTENCE OF MY BOOK.
    *Smashes face into keyboard*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to have a problem with ‘then’ and ‘there’. I knew it was important for people to understand when and how my characters were moving, but I’ve been learning something.

      You don’t have to write out every single action that you see, in that little movie in your mind. You just need to give your readers something to latch on to, without slowing down the pace.

      I’ve found that when I read most ‘immediate’ time adverbs, like then, or suddenly, it does nothing but slow down the pace (which is usually the opposite of the writer’s intention). So I’ve been cutting those out almost entirely.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. I once had a journalism professor who said every time you use “very” you can substitute it with “damn” and you don’t change the meaning of the sentence. It’s a pretty funny exercise and makes you realize how imprecise the word “very” actually is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That’s actually a quote from Mark Twain: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

      That man was a source of brilliance. Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

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