Write Right: Easy on the Adverbs

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Write RightElmore Leonard has a rule regarding adverbs: “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said.’” His rule could be applied to adverbs as a whole. When possible, if at all possible, avoid adverbs.

Adverbs often are fluff words. Cut them, and the meaning of the passage remains intact. Cut them, and the writing becomes stronger. Cut them and replace them with stronger words. Don’t settle upon an adverb when a better word – the right word – is available and waiting to be found. Keep searching for the right word. Find it and lose the adverbs.

To put it another way:

Streamline the writing. Watch it begin to sing instead of stumble from one place to another. If adverb-free writing is the man who knows where he is going and the steps to getting there, adverb-heavy writing is the town drunkard who stumbles into people and objects and says inappropriate things at all times. Leave the drunkard in jail for the night. Let him go free the next morning but only if he’s sober. If he isn’t, keep him in jail a while longer.

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Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media and the founder of Write Right. She's a copywriter, editor, poet, and artist. You can find Erin on .

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