rehabilitating the adverb

how-to guides for writers usually spend some time pounding on the adverb (as they pound on adjectives, something I’ve talked about elsewhere). More recently it seems like some pundits have held out a truce flag. Adverbs, it seems, are not all bad.

But we knew that, right? We didn’t need Arthur Plotnik (The Elements of Editing, The Elements of Expression, The Elements of Authorship) to tell us that if used carefully, the adverb can be quite a spiffy tool. But there’s even a formula:

(1) take a ‘strong’ adverb (scornfully, fervently)
(2) sidestep and find an unlikely adjective with which to pair it (devout, modest, thoughtful)

and you’ll end up with witty, unusual turns of phrase: Jessie had a fervently modest mother who specialized in surprising us with elaborate afterschool snacks. At least, that’s the idea. To me it seems forced and, well, formulaic, much like authors who go into such contortions to vary the way their sentences begin that they end up with oddities like Putting on her coat, Gina thought about asking John for a loan.

So I’m going to resort to my one and only adjective rule and expand it to adverbs: go forth, and be profligate no more.

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