Category Archives: English Usage

Adverbs are Like Snakes Only Less Popular

New World Coral snake.

Ew, such a frightfully poisonous snake!


To say that adverbs are unpopular is an understatement. Fact is, I would rather be a Coral snake than a lowly adverb … oops! I should have written, “than a humble adverb”.

Some agents and editors abhor the nasty beggars, especially in fiction. They say that any sentence containing a -ly word should be exorcised at once to cast out the horrible offender. Now, that seems a bit extreme to me. Why are adverbs an acceptable part of our language, yet aren’t allowed?

Of course, misuses of adverbs exist, like misuses of every part of speech. Sometimes an adverb is used to modify a strong verb, like “shouted loudly” or “whispered softly”. In both cases, the verb deserves to stand alone because of its innate power. A lot of writers shun using any speaker attribution other than “said”. Thus,”said loudly” or “said softly” are proper.

Many other usages should be avoided, too numerous to relate now. The rule I use is, if the adverb provides concise meaning and doesn’t steal from a neighbor, it should be used. Another way to consider their use is to make them royalty and not pariahs. Use them as discretely as you would exclamation marks.

Are adverbs effective? Adverbs are definitely effective. Should they be respected? Absolutely, they should be respected! Should writers ignore their bad publicity? Ultimately so, because adverbs are royalty –– scarce, special and unusually benevolent.