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Tuesday

Kill Your Adverbs

So, we all know we're not supposed to make our writing wordy, but what exactly makes writing wordy in the first place? Well, one answer to that question is the overuse of adverbs, especially of adverbs ending in -ly.

For instance:

Slowly, Abigail meticulously moves on her newly-sharpened ice skate, becoming somewhat angelic as she goes into a carefully- executed spin.

As a general rule, it's a safe bet that you can delete just about any word that ends in -ly and replace it with a more appropriate word.

For instance, if I were to rewrite the above sentence, I could say:

An angel on ice, Abigail glides on her new skates, then turns into a blur as ice flies up from her polished spin.

Notice how I got rid of all of the adverbs and replaced them with either stronger verbs or images that do a better job on conveying my meaning?

Generally, too many -ly adverbs mean that your verbs aren't strong enough and are relying too heavily on the support of modifiers. Obviously -ly words are okay sometimes (I just used a couple, in case you didn't notice), but it's their overuse that makes sentences clunky.

Studying poetry can help you learn to chose just the right word. I know it has helped me. Here is one of my favorite poems by E.E. Cummings. I got this particular one off of AmericanPoems.com. Notice how each word he chooses (as well as the grammar and punctuation, which I love about him) is very intentional and brings something specific to the poem.


i carry your heart with me
e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bed
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

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