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November 29, 2017

The catchy title, notwithstanding, there’s more to this article. On one of my writer’s forums, the question, “Why are adverbs bad?” came up. I never even looked at the responses, expecting to see plenty of reasons why, with plenty of “So what’s” thrown in, especially from the self-publishing crowd as well as the “it’s the story that counts” crowd. Then there are those that say all rules are meant to be broken as well as no rules are absolute with a touch of whining thrown in.

Okay. Adverbs are as much a part of the English language as any other word. We use them all the time in our speech. Get that? Speech. Why not use them in narrative as well?

Ahem…let’s look at that a bit more.


In layman’s terms, an adverb is a word that enhances or modifies a regular verb. It adds color to a regular verb. Okay, what does that mean? It’s better to give examples.

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

She rarely does that.

“I’m absolutely sure.”

They seem to be okay, right? You can usually tell what they are by the “ly” on the end of the word.


We color our speech, in other words, dialogue, every time we open our mouth. Well, most people do. One can hardly say a sentence without attempting to enhance or emphasize what they’re saying. To alter the to be with something to clarify or elaborate it is part of what we do when we communicate with others.

Therefore, in dialogue, it’s more okay to use some adverbs.


Notice the adverb in the title of this section, “quite,” which is deliberate.

Narrative, on the other hand, is you, the author, conveying a word picture to the reader. It’s drawing the scene out and giving information in the most explicit way. That means you need to use word economy, without a lot of fluff. Extraneous words, like adverbs, should not be used if there’s a better way of saying the same thing.


Your job as an author is to make your story as little work for the reader as possible. Your job is to tell (or show) a story so that the reader shouldn’t struggle to get from A to B. The reading of your tale should be a pure pleasure, not a burden. The more crap you throw in the way, the more the reader has to struggle to not only get what you’re talking about, but to enjoy it.

The last thing you want to do is throw roadblocks in the way to prevent the reader from getting there.

I’ve preached this over and over again.

In this case, adverbs are clutter.

In dialogue, they’re a natural part of speech. However, at the same time, we certainly don’t write exactly how a person talks, do we? Do you write with all the ahems, and uhs, and irritating speech patterns that people do unconsciously? Of course not. You also don’t write every little quirk in speech either. Trying to read that would be irritating and well…unreadable. Therefore, you have to clean all that crap up, but at the same time, maybe drop a hint or give an example to show the reader a character’s speech pattern, maybe. In all that, you don’t put down every adverb someone throws into speech. Some, but not every one!

In narrative, adverbs come off as unnecessary fluff. Your job in narrative isn’t to impress the reader with fluff, it’s to get the message across, get the action and descriptions across in the most efficient manner possible. Adverbs, among other words, in most cases, don’t do that. There’s almost always a fix for an adverb. As an editor, I’m always finding ways to delete almost every “ly” word in a manuscript. Very rarely do I leave one in there. They can be justified, but not often.

Adverbs are fluff, they’re usually not needed and just add clutter the reader has to slog through to get from A to B.


Adverbs are bad if not used in the right context. I used them in this conversational and instructional article. Could I have eliminated some of them? Maybe, probably. However, I considered them and chose to leave them in for the purposes of ‘splaining to you, in my way, why you need to get rid of them.

They’re a part of our language. However, it’s best to minimize them and leave most of them to the dialogue.

Happy writing!

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