The Trouble with Adverbs

… is that people who rail against them usually have no idea what an adverb actually is.

When someone tells you, “Never use adverbs!” they are, in fact, using an adverb. Womp womp.

Adverbs are usually identified by their ending in -ly. But that’s a dumb way to ID adverbs. They are so much more than just -ly words. In fact, some -ly words aren’t adverbs at all.

It’s time for a breakdown!

Not that kind of breakdown.

An adverb is simply a word that modifies a verb. That’s all. The end. Pack it up, let’s go home.

Pffttt you didn’t think we were actually going home, did you? I can’t just stop talking about grammar that fast. You’re silly! Sit down.

In the sentence “I walked quickly,” we can all point at quickly and say, “There’s the adverb!”

Okay, smarty pants. What about this sentence:

“I walked like Leonardo Dicaprio.”

Where’s the adverb now?!

You might be tempted to say, “Why Taylor, there IS no adverb!” And you’d be wrong. If we consider the questions an adverb answers, you’ll be able to see what I mean. An adverb answers one of three questions regarding the verb: when, where, and how.

[I walked] [like Leonardo Dicaprio]

Do you remember what a preposition is?! Well I DO! A preposition is a locator in time and space. The TARDIS is probably fueled by prepositions. It is also a way to describe a relationship between other words in a sentence. “Like” is a preposition because it communicates the relationship between me and Leonardo Dicaprio.

Remember what questions an adverb answers?

“I walked.”

How did you walk?”

“Like Leonardo Dicaprio!”

Since [like Leonardo Dicaprio] doesn’t actually contain a single word that functions as an adverb, but the whole phrase itself functions as an adverb, this is called an adverbial phrase (as opposed to an adverbial clause, which would contain an actual adverb). And an adverbial phrase counts as an… ADVERB!!

I can understand the argument for cutting out adverbs that lend themselves to lazy writing. It’s also an issue of “show vs tell,” which is a topic entirely for another day. But this lazy writing isn’t the fault of the adverb; it’s the fault of the writer. English has so many words and saying things like walked quickly means you didn’t use words like hurried, scampered, bustled, hastened, scurried, or rushed, which is a damn shame.

Sometimes, though, using one of the dreaded -ly words is much better than any alternative, and in that case a writer should use it and use it proudly. HA! See what I did there!? I’m so clever.

2 thoughts on “The Trouble with Adverbs

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