To Use or Not To Use: Adverbs

One of my work friends introduced me to this written work by Stephen King and re-posted by

The article is all about adverbs – specifically the ‘ly’ adverbs – and how they’re the bane of writer’s existence and how the excessive use of the ly adverbs is the mark of what he calls a “timid writer.”

Now, I’ll be honest, I had some issues with the timid writer part. I don’t entirely agree with his assertion that fear is the root of bad writing – deadlines, time limits, not enough practice in the art perhaps but not necessarily fear itself. So it’s not ‘timid writing’ more like tired writing or young writing even. If a writer grasps for ly adverbs instead of shifting the sentence around and using stronger verbs then I would propose the writer is tired or young or not as interested in his or her craft (or even doesn’t recognize how weak ly adverbs can make a sentence sound.

Because, yes, just as Mr. King asserts, it is true, using ly words does tend to weaken sentences, especially if you can find one action word that would sum it up for you. Publishers (and readers) like strong sentences, and if you can say it in three words rather than four, say it in three words.

I loved the example he gave:

[‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.]

Though it’s a bit much, it showcases his point rather well.

It was rather good timing on my work friend’s part as well since it’s something I’m trying to change in my writing too. (My writing group hounds me on this subject on a weekly basis!)  One thing that I’m doing is going through my chapters and using the Find tool to search for ‘ly’ – I was shocked when I learned how many ‘ly’ words I used in the span of ten pages (41, if you’d like to know) and, when I looked at the ly words I found if I altered the sentence and omitted the word it became a stronger easier to understand image. Poof – stronger writing! (Of course, changing most of the 41 ly words wasn’t necessarily poof, more like a hissing leak in a old oxygen tank.)

I’ll agree with one more thing in Stephen King’s article – you can use adverbs (ly or not) in your writing. Use them, but don’t abuse them.

Now the sun is shining, and I have to go enjoy it. Have a lovely weekend!
Warm regards,


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