Saturday, October 29, 2011


Adjectives modify nouns.

The dress is red. “Red” is an adjective.

Adverbs modify verbs, or other parts of speech that aren’t nouns. Many end in “ly.”

He ran quickly. “Quickly” is an adverb.


Language has rules, and syntax is the ordered placement of words in a sentence. In English, the order is generally Subject Verb Object (SVO). Adverbs, like all modifiers, should be placed as closely as possible to the words they modify to clarify meaning. But, like ice cream, too much of a good thing can be bad. When writers depend on adverbs to explain character traits or show emotion, their sentences sound weak.

“Hi, honey,” James sweetly intoned. “How was your day?”

Many “ly” verbs also modify the verb “said” because writers want to spice it up. I don’t have a problem with “said,” but some writers do. Read the publication you want to write for, and follow its style guidelines. As a former staff writer for a magazine that used the word “says,” (which I hated) I can tell you that after a while I just read past those “says,” which is also what we do with the word “said.”

Read the following examples, and then rewrite them to make the sentences stronger. Can you show the reader that Laura is tired, and Susan is cold?

 “I am so tired,” Laura said, weakly.

“Where are my gloves?” Susan said, coldly.

Cut back on “ly” words, especially those that assist weak verbs. Don’t let adverbs suck the life out of your content. Rewrite those sentences with “ly” words to strengthen your writing.


Before she opened the door, James had Sheila’s martini on the table next to her favorite chair. (James is sweet, and/or thoughtful.)

Laura yawned more than a dozen times during the seven-minute presentation. (Laura is tired.)

Susan rubbed her hands together, and cupped them in front of her mouth to warm them with her breath. (Susan is cold.)

Write soon,



  1. Hi Mary,

    Your post about adverbs is interesting and definitely (oops) relevant. I try to watch out for adverbs when I write, but I'm not always successful.

    I agree that most adverbs are grossly (oops again) overused, especially (my bad) by some overly (stop it now) eager writers. ;-0


  2. Great advice, and I do try to avoid both, and show instead of tell, however...

  3. You have no idea how many times I used them incorrectly when I wrote this! Thanks for your comments!