The Case Against Adverbs

20 May
So many good reasons to retire them immediately. Or just to retire them.

Many good reasons to retire them immediately. Or just retire them. (New York Magazine illustration)

 

A strong and persuasive case, made by Christian Lorentzen in New York Magazine.  This will rub against much of what we have been taught about writing, especially the revered “transition”  that should have been barred from the curriculum decades ago. 

An excess of adverbs in prose signals a general lack of vividness in verbs and adjectives. You might have to say someone ran swiftly or walked slowly, but you’d never have to qualify galloping or lumbering. The adverbs easiest to hate are the so-called sentence adverbs — also known as conjunctive adverbs. Writers who lean on the crutches of “moreover,” “accordingly,” “consequently,” and “likewise” are declaring a lack of confidence in the sequence of their own logic or a lack of faith in their readers’ ability to follow it. Deploying “indeed” is tantamount to saying, “I’ve just had a thought and, indeed, I’ve just had another.” Next time you come across the word “meanwhile,” ask yourself when else all this could have been happening. What is the adverbial phrase “of course” but a smug duo dropped in to congratulate writer and reader for already agreeing with each other. “Nevertheless,” “nonetheless,” and the atrocious “however” are symptoms of an anxiety over a proliferation of the word “but.” But you can never have too many helpings of “but,” and sound thinking will make hay of contradictions.

Read the whole essay here.

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