Confused By Adverbs?

It’s okay if you’re confused by adverbs! I’ve been writing for more than ten years and just recently discovered what they are and how NOT to use them.

Yeah, I’ll admit it’s pathetic, seeing as I know what nouns, verbs, and adjectives are. I decided when to use the Oxford comma (this varies by person, but my answer is most of the damn time). And I know the difference between their, they’re, and there.

But, for all this time, I’ve been confused by adverbs.

Okay, I wasn’t clueless – I had some notion of what they were (usually words that end in -ly). But, that was about as specific as my definition would get.

At this point, if you’re like I was and are confused by adverbs, you’re likely wondering why it matters so much. So here’s the reason why:

The only reason we use adverbs is because we aren’t using strong enough verbs.

And verbs are important, especially strong verbs. If you use a strong verb then there’s no need for an adverb.

For example, if I write “Bob quickly walked away” quickly is the adverb. In this sentence, walked is the weak verb. It’s not a bad verb – you’re welcome to use it if you like – but there’s a better way to say someone “quickly walked away.”

Actually, there’s more than one better replacement for “quickly walked”:

  1. raced
  2. sprinted
  3. jogged
  4. rushed
  5. scurried

(I’m sure there are more than these five, but I have to stop the list somewhere.)

“Bob scurried away” is more specific and concise than “Bob quickly walked away.” When it comes to writing, the general rule is less is more. This means you should use as few words as possible to get your point across. And now you know that eliminating adverbs is an excellent way to do just that!

Still unsure how to identify adverbs?

Well, have I got some good news for you!

I actually had an epiphany the other day and now I can spot an adverb anywhere!

While the words ending in -ly IS a good indicator it’s not 100% reliable. For instance, “actually” isn’t an adverb! Shocking, I know, but this is the piece of advice I’ve seen everywhere for identifying adverbs and it’s always frustrated me. At least, until I had my eureka moment this past week…

I realized that an adverb is to a verb/adjective as an adjective is to a noun.

Before you ask anything other than huh? Remind yourself what an adjective is.

Hint: it’s a word that describes a noun.

So, in this incomplete sentence “Sheila sat in a brown chair,” brown is the adjective because it’s describing the noun.

Now, let’s go back to my earlier example, “Bob quickly walked away.” In this sentence, the adverb quickly describes the verb walked. Ta-da! There’s the adverb!

I’ll tell you right now that when I figured this out I stopped in the middle of what I was doing and slapped my forehead. It’s ridiculously simple!

Yes, “ridiculously” IS an adverb! But I’m letting it slide at the moment. Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules. But only sometimes. Do not allow more than a scarce few adverbs slip through!

So, to review: an adverb is any word used to describe a verb or an adjective. It’s okay to use them once in a while, but when in doubt cut it out! And, you know, use strong verbs instead. 😉

What about you? Are you confused by adverbs? Did this help? Let me know in the comments!


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