"Ly" Sentence Openers - Campaign Against Adverbs

Published: 27th November 2009
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Lots of writers --even professional ones-- are fond of using an abundance of adverbs. The reason for this is that instead of searching for a precise verb they reach for a quick weak verb; it follows then that verb then will need to be buttressed by an adverb. If the adverb is of the kind that ends in 'ly,' then that is a signal of lazy writing.

Leona closed the door violently.

Because adverbs' main function is to qualify, support, or buttress the meaning of verbs, it is easier and more convenient to use them (adverbs) rather than to spend time finding the appropriate verb. We can then say that the use and abuse of adverbs may be attributed to gaining expediency at the cost of quality.

Notice how a more adequate verb would eliminate the need for the use of the adverb 'violently':

Leona slammed the door.

Editors have an eagle eye when it comes to spotting the 'ly' nuisances. So don't risk the embarrassment of having your work returned marked unacceptable because of the use of adverbs.

The offenses are even more glaring when the adverbs are doubled up:

Leona breathed noisily and wearily.

Could be revised to:

Leona yawned.

Mark Twain wrote in a magazine about what he called 'this adverb plague":

I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,--and this adverb plague is one of them.

It is not that adverbs are tough to master, nor that they do not add excitement to our writing, or that they are meaningless--not at all. It is that they detract and slow your pace, causing readers to put down your work.

Often a writer must use them. But master writers limit their use to an absolute minimum. And when they do have to use an adverb they prefer to qualify or buttress their verbs with adverb substitutes-such as prepositional phrases.

Take this example:

Jacqueline Susan wrote brilliantly.

The adverb 'brilliantly' (which qualifies the conjugated verb 'wrote') may be replaced by the prepositional phrase 'with brilliance':

Jacqueline Susan wrote with brilliance.

But what we may consider blasphemous in the temple of writing is the use of adverbs as sentence openers:

Ardently, lucidly, vigorously, humorously and passionately Josh Brogan sang the song-homage to Van Gogh 'Vincent.'

All that useless concatenation of adverbs could have been avoided by a simple verb:

When it comes to 'Vincent" no one can out-sing John Brogan.

As horror master writer Stephen King says, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." So, if you consider yourself a serious writer (at least one who does not want to be damned), after you have done your writing for the day, run a program that will automatically remove all adverbs ending in 'ly.' You might still end up with many other adverbs, but not the most glaring ones-the 'ly' nuisances.

To practice what I am preaching let me see what I can find. Ooops! " ... will automatically remove ..." Let's replace 'remove' with 'expunge.' The result is then that now we don't need to use 'automatically' at all.

Retired. Former investment banker, Columbia University-educated, Vietnam Vet (67-68).
For the writing techniques I use, see Mary Duffy's e-book: Sentence Openers.
To read my book reviews of the Classics visit my blog: Writing To Live

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