Essential writing skills: cheap and cheerful adverb annihilation

“I hate adverbs,” I said brightly, one day. “So do I,” my wife said cheerfully.

“Especially the ones that are made by adding an –ly ending to an adjective,” I added slowly. “They tell, not show.”

“How do you show, then?” my wife asked quizzically.

“Why,” I said thoughtfully, “by the context of the speech, cues and clues in the choice of wording. Go read Hemingway. He was a master at it. He didn’t even name his speakers, half the time.”

“Like this, you mean?”

“Exactly.”

“Why?”

“Well, it gets the dialogue out faster.”

“And?”

“And it makes the reader work for meaning – pulls them into the story. Also you don’t end up with double-ups like a question mark followed by the adverb ‘quizzically’.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Scrabbling for blog content.”

“I knew it. So – you mean too many adverbs spoil the broth?”

“Basically, apart from that terrible mixed metaphor. What’s for dinner?”

“Alphabet soup. And you’re cooking.”

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

 

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16 comments on “Essential writing skills: cheap and cheerful adverb annihilation

  1. bevrobitai says:

    And he writes comedy sketches too! I knew there was a reason I liked your posts.

  2. L. Palmer says:

    I think this is the clearest, most fun example of how adverbs can be precarious tool.

  3. Mentis Fugit says:

    Please don’t do that again, I commented exasperatedly.

  4. Love it – the Hemingway reference worked very well :)

  5. I have a question.

    Is an adverb that is placed in front of a verb, i.e. modifying the verb, the same thing as a split infinitive?

    We use the word infinitive a lot in French, but I never really understood in English what a split infinitive was, except to always hear one being told “No split infinitives”. No one ever explains it adequately. This could be am epiphany coming. :)

    • Um…aaaargh! A split infinitive is defined as an adverb in front of the infinitive form of the verb, separating it from the marker, when it should be the other way around. ‘To go boldly’ is, strictly speaking, correct, whereas ‘to boldly go’ is not. The reason is that the verb, in its infinitive form, needs a marker (‘to’) to make sense. Breaking that down, the phrase ‘to go’ is sensible, whereas ‘to boldly’ is not. However, split infinitives have become much more acceptable in western English since the 1960s for some reason (a bit of a trek to explain…)

      • Thank You! That is what I thought, I understood an adverb that modifies the verb when put in front, but now I guess the split is when you put something between to and the verb, I never understand what was being split. In French there is no “to”!

        And the wonderful irony of your example, probably the most famous split infinitive there is and one that now very widely accepted and will never be changed.

  6. loved this! thank you.

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