Adverbs have their purpose. They provide additional description about of a verb, adjective or other adverb.
Unfortunately writers tend to overuse them. This typically happens when a writer fails to select a word whose description stands on its own. To make the selected word provide the intended description, the writer grabs for an adverb. Whether done out of ignorance or laziness, the effect is the same–bloated writing.
Compare the following pairs of sentences, one using a verb and adverb, the other using a verb:
- She smiled broadly. — She grinned.
- He spoke loudly. — He shouted.
- The boy ran down the street quickly. — The boy dashed down the street.
Replacing a verb modified by an adverb (smiled broadly, spoke loudly, ran quickly) with a single verb (grinned, shouted, dashed) improves the quality of the sentences. They become vibrant. And the reader can envision the action in finer detail.
As with verbs, when you choose the appropriate adjective, you eliminate the need to use an adjective modified by an adverb. Consider the sentence: She did a very good job. Does very good mean great, commendable, outstanding, remarkable or something else? The writer has relinquished control by making the reader decide.
Are you overusing adverbs? This simple exercise will help you find out:
- Scan through your piece of writing and circle every word ending in ly. This will identify most of the adverbs. Also circle adverbs that modify an adjective, such as very in the example above.
- Read your writing out loud and when you come to an adverb, envision the image you intended.
- Ask yourself, does this adverb-verb combination or adverb-adjective combination show what I, the writer, see in my mind’s eye?
- If it does, great. If not, ask yourself, what one verb or adjective could I use instead? Make a list.
- Read the sentence using each of the words in your list. With each word, ask, does it fully describe what I see in my mind’s eye?
- When you find the right word, insert it, go to the next adverb and repeat the process.
When you read your edited draft, you will immediately notice the benefits of spending time and effort on this exercise. The removal of excess adverbs takes the bloat out of your writing. Plus, the words you carefully select to replace the adverbs create specific descriptions that improve your writing.
The bonus? Avoiding adverbs also enriches your reader’s experience, increasing their appreciation of your work and desire to read more.