Remove. Replace. Restructure. Keep Adverbs from Killing Your Sentences.

Quickly. Menacingly. Sweetly.

Adverbs are wonderful little goodies that bring such nuance to the English language. And we as authors are so eager to grab them in order to bring our worlds to life in the mind of a reader. But they’re low-hanging fruit.

Mark Twain and Stephen King agree with me when I say adverbs seem like they add intricacy to a sentence, however they end up working AGAINST the purpose of that sentence and are often point to weak verbs.

My advice: 90% of the time, adverbs can be taken out. Remove. Replace. Restructure. 

Let’s look at the following sentence:

The cat ran quickly across the table.

Here, “quickly” is the adverb modifying “ran”. Now, let’s see how the adverb can be removed, the verb can be replaced, or the sentence can be restructured, to make the line more effective.

1. Remove the adverb

The cat ran across the table.

By removing the adverb, the sentence becomes a lot more quick. The sentence now has a more tangible feeling than “quickly” would be able to accomplish. In the context of a paragraph, the speed of the sentence conveys the action.

2. Replace the weak verb

The cat bolted across the table.

“Ran” is simple verb. And there’s nothing wrong with simple verbs, but in this case it didn’t do the job. Whenever you feel a verb needs an adverb, take a look at the verb itself. It’s probably weak. Here, I’ve replaced “ran quickly” with bolted. It is a single word that keeps the pace of the sentence and still incorporates the nuance of the cat’s running. Break out a thesaurus. “Sprinted” or “scurried” or any number of synonyms would do the trick.

3. Restructure the sentence. 

The cat’s legs were a blur, spitting the magician’s parchment pages into the air, as it took off across the table.

I may have taken some artistic liberty in making the cat a magician’s cat, but the point is still valid. If the sentence needs the nuance provided by the adverb, maybe it’s time to take a step back and think of what imagery or figurative language can accomplish the effect or better set the scene. This does take practice. So, I recommend listing a few sentences containing adverbs and then restructure each of them using concrete sensory details. In no time, it’ll be easy peasy.

To determine which of the three methods to use (or perhaps a combination), think about the purpose of the sentence in the paragraph.






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