Don’t Murder the Adverb

The murder of a human being when we read about it in the news is a serious matter, as well it should be. In fiction it is not, unless the author does it ineptly, in which case it is a crime against the reader.

But what has been going on for years in plain sight is another murder—the thoughtless killing of the innocent and inoffensive adverb.

The attack has been occurring on two fronts, in speech and in fiction books.

The more blatant of the two is in speech, particularly in sports broadcasting. He played spectacular instead of He played spectacularly or She won consistent instead of She won consistently. I am not the first to point this out and I’m sure I won’t be the last since this usage is right out in public view and continues to offend many listener’s ears.

The other front against the adverb is more subtle because it occurs in written form.  Since there are many ways to write a sentence to convey an idea, the reader may not notice the lack of adverbs.

As an author, who has had many discussions with editors and critique groups, I can assure you the lack is deliberate. When a manuscript is reviewed, one of the first items on the cutting board are the lowly adverbs. If it ends in ly delete it. Rephrase the sentence. Adverbs slow down the action.  It was not always so. Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters, both extremely popular mystery writers had no aversion to adverbs.

I will admit that adverbs should not be over-used or used in lazy writing.  She said softly might better be said as She whispered. But there are definitely many places where it belongs—as in this sentence.

Dear Readers and Speakers—stand up and save the adverb.

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