Writing isn’t math. It has no Pythagorean theorem, but it’s simple to ban adverbs. In many cases, doing so can improve the work in question, as it encourages writers—children, adults, newbies, veterans—to think about structure and diction. The no-adverbs rule only becomes problematic when students don’t learn—just like how there are many words where “e” comes before “i”—that there are times when the rule is meant to be broken.
Even those most famous rulebooks couch their points in qualifiers. Dig past the section headings, and Strunk and White aren’t always against an adverb. It’s in the rush to get it right that those who rely on those rules replace Zinsser’s “most” with “all.” We forget that there are exceptions, that an adverb can go a long way.
Lily Rothman comes to the defense of a much-maligned part of speech. Read more.
I’m not very good at “modifying.” In yoga I push myself into the harder pose, ignoring the teacher’s pleas to take it easy. In life, I refuse to tone down how much cheese and chocolate I eat. In fact the only things I’m good at modifying are… nouns (so I believe). Add an “easily,” “sweetly,” or “helpfully” in my own writing? Well then, I think I will.
In all seriousness adverbs can enhance—and help to define in some cases—sentences within a person’s novel, essay, or even email. As Lily Rothman says, “Without “lightly,” we would be having breakfast at Tiffany with Holly Go… Without “merrily,” we would row, row, row a boat down a stream and think it a nightmare.”
Can you imagine rowing around a world without these helpful parts-of-speech? I don’t think I want to.
Long live words that end with -ly. Truly.