Avoid adverbs and use a strong verb instead.

Posted: January 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Most Popular Posts, Plain English: Tips | Tags: , | No Comments »

My grandmother-in-law—an accomplished poet and a wise woman—once advised me that Adverbs are not your friend, Dearie. She’s right. Adverbs don’t belong in your writing because they add little and often backfire. For example, The defendant actively disputes that claim simply means that The defendant disputes that claim.  (Forgive my use of the adverb simply. I like the emphasis it adds here.) The company strongly cautioned is hesitant and bureaucratic. The company banned is stronger and more believable. Rather than use an adverb, describe the conduct specifically. For example, replace The company thoroughly met its obligations to warn with The company explained the risk of nerve impairment.

Adverbs can also be evasive. Avoid hedging words such as generallyusuallycustomarily, or basic. An assertion that Client X usually honored gift certificates will translate as But Client X didn’t honor this gift certificateThe contract is absolutely clear means that The contract is clear or—more likely—that The contract is not clear at all. The defendant arguably met its obligations means that The defendant did not meet its obligations this time.

Search for ly as part of your proofreading edit to weed out pesky adverbs, such as plainlyclearly, or patently.


So how strong are your verbs?

P.S. Chapter 4 of My Book, which covers Plain English and Other Tricks to Help You Sound Human, contains more plain English tips like this.


What do you think?