Adverbs: Use them or not?

I recently wrote a blog entry (on adverbs), which highlights something I often confront during my career—mainly, teaching English versus writing it. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I’ve noticed students often avoid using adverbs, though I’m not entirely sure why. 

For those who hate grammar, adverbs are those words that look like adjectives + ly (words like: slowly, deliberately, immediately, etc.) They emphasize and add girth to actions (she wrote hurriedly) and modify adjectives (he was devastatingly handsome), which makes speakers sound so much more fluent.

For my Dutch students, muttering a sentence such as “it was an incredibly delicious meal,” goes against their nature, which is based in Calvinist roots. The meal was either good or not and to say more smacks of exaggeration. Only native English speakers really speak this way, constantly measuring, qualifying and spicing up their sentences. Being deliriously happy is more nuanced than simply being happy, say.

As a writer, however, I have been taught that adverbs are horrible things to be avoided. As Stephen King puts it in his book On Writing, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” For King, adverbs are a malignant part of speech that signals the writer isn’t expressing him or herself clearly. Compare: he slammed the door to he slammed the door menacingly.

Says King, the latter is weaker because it doesn’t add anything, only exposes the writer’s fear. And what is that fear? Fear of deadlines, criticism, negative feedback, no feedback and the list goes on and on….

Last modified onWednesday, 29 April 2015 14:28

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