Weekly Grammar Tip: Adverbs

Are you adverb-ly?

Adverbs are another type of describing word. While adjectives describe nouns, adverbs describe verbs. Adverbs are typically adjectives with -ly added to the end, for example:

  • beautiful – beautifully
  • tired – tiredly

Adverbs add description to the actions taking place, for example:

  • The cat purred loudly as she stretched.
  • Walking slowly, Fergal wondered absently if he’d missed the train.
  • As usual, Fern yawn widely and hit the snooze button lazily before turning over and going back to sleep.

There are many warnings against the abuse of adverbs – when you are tempted to use an adverb, ask yourself if more description would enhance the writing, or if the adverb is defunct because of the phrasing. Have a look at the differences between these sentences:

  • “I’m sleepy,” Fergal yawned tiredly.
  • Martha ate the entire block of chocolate greedily.


  • Fern looked guiltily at her abandoned novel.
  • The coffee pot gurgled happily.

In the first two sentences the adverbs aren’t necessary – Fergal has said he’s sleepy, so why describe it further with the adverb? To eat the entire block of chocolate, Martha is either greedy or starving – more context in the narrative will help ascertain this without need of an adverb.

In the last two sentences, the adverbs enhance the action. If Fern looked at her abandoned novel happily, it would imply she had moved on to a better, brighter idea. The happy gurgle from the coffee pot implies the narrator is optimistic about the day, or perhaps the coffee pot has recently been repaired and no longer splutters and chokes.

In On Writing, Stephen King writes: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Like commas, they are not to be abused!


8 comments on “Weekly Grammar Tip: Adverbs

  1. Don’t start me on lack of grammar teaching! ****** ridiculous! As for adverbs – another adverbial sin is sticking them in the wrong places – eg ‘Fergal tiredly yawned’. A certain writer of popular thrillers should be put in grammar gaol for this.

  2. Yes, that is a great quote! And reflected by my high school English teacher who always said of my poetry, “go back, cut all the adverbs, then it will be good.” She thought that adverbs were an easy way of getting out of using metaphor or similie or imagery for description, and I tend to agree! So thanks for doing this post with a warning label!

    • I think that idea re. adverbs being lazy substitutes for metaphors and similes =D

      I find that when I go back and use detailed description to SHOW the “smiled tiredly” rather than TELL with the adverb, my writing is more detailed (and my NaNo count increases).

  3. Haha! That’s an awesome quote.

    As you would know, learning another language is a great way to learn about your own language, but a little bit of me died inside when I noticed the sheer number of people in the class who didn’t know what adverbs were.

    I won’t condemn someone for getting a bit confused when learning another language, but to have NO knowledge whatsever was terrible! I miss the good old days of primary school, where English lessons covered these types of things!


    • Indeed … though I was one of the kids who didn’t know adverbs! I do now … thus instead of getting my knickers in a knot when people confuse their adverbs and pronouns I can send them here. Kindly. And with minimal groaning.

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