Adverbs are not the work of the Devil

Despite widespread vilification, adverbs are actually perfectly all right. They can in fact be extremely useful.

As evidence, allow me to present ten works by authors that I think are widely recognized as stylists and wordsmiths. I think you’ll know who wrote each of these works:

1. The Changeling Sea: The sea, it seemed to Peri, had taken her mother as well as her father, and left some stranger wandering despairingly among her cooking pots.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness: Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly.

3. Under Heaven: Some holy men and hermits in their mountains and forests might deliberately act otherwise, going through days like blown leaves, defined by the absence of will or desire, but his was a different nature, and he wasn’t holy.

4. The Hero and the Crown: Galanna’s Gift, it was dryly said, was to be impossible to please.

5. Hild: Like her mother’s words, and her father’s, and her sisters. Utterly unlike Onnen’s otter-swift British or the dark liquid gleam of Irish.

6. The Book of the New Sun: Doubtfully, the boy Eata suggested that we go around. A lift of his thin, freckled arm indicated the thousands of paces of wall stretching across the slum and sweeping up the hill until at last they met the high curtain wall of the Citadel.

7. A Fine and Private Place: The balcony weighed the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door. Frantically he beat his wings to gain altitude, looking like a small black electric fan.

8. Un Lun Dun: It wasn’t that it wasn’t moving; it was furiously not-moving. By the time they got close to the climbing frame, they were creeping exaggeratedly, like cartoon hunters.

9. Howl’s Moving Castle: Fanny looked relieved. Lettie could be awkwardly strong-minded at times.

10. I expect you’ll all recognize this one: When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, every since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return.

I found all these examples of adverbs within a page or two of the beginning of each book.

I rest my case.

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4 thoughts on “Adverbs are not the work of the Devil”

  1. I went through a “thou shalt not use adverbs” phase, but trying to avoid them all the time leads to awkward language. An occasional adverb is fine; just don’t use them for everything.

  2. The big one, imo, is avoiding the constant use of adverbs in dialog tags — and even there the occasional adverb is okay.

    I think the first time I heard the Never Use Adverbs advice, I immediately went and looked at some Patricia McKillip book or other. Then I quit worrying about it. “If she can use ’em,” I said firmly, “I can use ’em.”

  3. My favourite examples are on facing pages of A Civil Campaign:

    “She was suddenly on fire with a desire to be immodest, improper, and above all . . . not upright. Quite gloriously horizontal, in fact.”

    “‘It was that blithering idiot Alexi Vormoncrief, wasn’t it? Ah!’ The light dawned, furiously, like the glare from an atomic fireball.”

    A lesser writer might have been content with, “She was furious when she realized . . .” This is why we read Bujold.

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