August 16th, 2006

In Praise of Adverbs

While swigging my espresso this morning I read it again—that commonplace command to contemporary writers to forego the adverb, that evil bit of grammary that serves no purpose but to clarify the verb to which it refers.


Evil, evil, bad, bad adverbs!


So say the writing pundits. Screw that, say I.


Perhaps it is merely because I grew up reading horrible literature, stuff that scarcely deserves the name. Stuff like Little Women and Jane Eyre and the Chronicles of Narnia and Anne of Green Gables. Terrible stuff, chock full of adverbial phrases like, “He said sadly,” “She grinned menacingly,” and “He stared meaningfully.”


Without adverbs, how would a reader know that a character felt mournful when he said, “The cake has raisins in it?” Are we just supposed to intuit the fact that this guy hates shrunken grapes? And exactly how are we supposed to intuit it without an adverb? (Okay, the adverb negates the need for intuition—but that’s kinda my point.)


Without adverbs, how would a reader know that the smiling girl who just passed an exam book to the student next to her was actually posing a silent threat to the passee?


Ants I can’t figure out, and acne is also a mystery to me—but I’m quite sure that God invented adverbs for a reason. If Hemingway has taught us anything, it’s that a lack of adverbs—and attribution—and emotion—and, you know, writing that you actually want to read—creates a story that makes all readers miserable, and therefore pops it right onto the required reading list for students everywhere.


I certainly can’t speak for you; but I can tell you absolutely (ha!) that I firmly (ha HA!) advocate for the use of adverbs whenever necessary. And believe me when I tell you that I am staring at you meaningfully—yes, through the computer screen—as you thoughtfully read this blog. 

Go forth eagerly, and avoid adverbs no more!