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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Abandoning Adverbs For Stronger Sentence Structure

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

“Every adjective and adverb is worth five cents. Every verb is worth fifty cents.”
Mary Oliver

Adverbs—a modifier or qualifier for an adjective, verb, or other adverbact as linguistic crutches, resulted in watered down sentences.

In the tapestry of stories, every word should contribute. But when relying on adverbs, we zap the strength from our sentences.

Adverbs Weaken Descriptions

Consider the following: "He ran quickly."

This sentence looks straightforward and accurate at first glance, but the verbiage waters down the action.

He ran quickly? How about he sprinted, or darted, or scurried away? Each of those alternative words offer a different connotation. Saying that he "ran quickly" is bland and boring.

Adverbs Rob Readers Of Imagery

Abandoning adverbs forces writers to seek vibrant verbs, helping to create a vivid and immersive experience for readers.

Example: Kyle slowly approached Jasmine. "What are you doing?" he asked quietly.

Rewrite: Kyle crept toward Jasmine. "What are you doing?" he whispered.

Simple changes, but they make the action stronger.

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart."
Mark Twain

The Power Of Precision

Culling adverbs from your writing may feel like a restriction at first blush, but you will come to see it as a liberation—a way to harness the power of words.

It's about crafting sentences that resonate with strength and clarity, where each word serves a purpose in enhancing the overall impact.

So I Should Never Use Adverbs?

Absolutely you can use adverbs. But by being selective, you heighten the impact on the rare occasion that you use an adverb.

How To Kill Your Adverbs

Here are some tools that I find handy:

Hemingway Editor—A tool that highlights complex sentences and words, passive voice, and adverbs, and grades your writing by its readability (the lower, the better).

Reedsy's List of Forceful Verbs—Hundreds of verbs, separated by categories (i.e. moving verbs, speaking verbs).

RIP adverbs!

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