Is adverb phobia justified?
The road to hell is paved with adverbs. Stephen King
If you see an adverb, kill it. Mark Twain
Writing advice usually includes instructions to remove or replace adverbs. If so, why do adverbs exist at all? Do they have a place in good writing? Is adverb phobia justified?
Adverbs are words that modify or qualify verbs. For example, she sang sweetly or he walked quickly. Often their use merits the pleas to exterminate them.
Sometimes adverbs are superfluous. For example, he shouted loudly. Have you ever heard someone shout quietly? Adverbs are accused of distracting from the action. Mark Twain called adverbs “the tool of the lazy writer”. Writers are advised to replace adverbs and their associated verbs with more active or descriptive verbs, such as “cradled” instead of “held gently”, or to describe the action in a way that negates any need to qualify the verb.
Some articles I’ve read blame adverbs ending in “ly” for giving all adverbs a bad reputation, but I have trouble thinking of adverbs that don’t end in “ly”.
Never use an adverb to modify the word “said”…he admonished gravely. Elmore Leonard
In his book On Writing, Stephen King said, “I can be a good sport about adverbs. Yes, I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of circumstances.” So, instead of writing “she said softly”, perhaps “she whispered” is a better alternative. Then again, in addition to advising against using adverbs to modify the word “said”, Elmore Leonard also said, “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.” All of which leaves a challenge for the writer.
A writer who writes crisp, action-filled prose dispenses with adverbs. But sometimes a well-placed and well-chosen adverb conveys the story better than another option. Not all writers are averse to using adverbs. If you open up any book in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you will find no shortage of adverbs. Indeed, J. K. Rowling has been criticized for excessive use of adverbs. Yet, that hasn’t distracted millions from enjoying her books.
Adverbs are guilty until proven innocent. Howard Ogden
In the rest of the passage following Stephen King’s famous quote about adverbs and the road to hell, he likens adverbs to dandelions. One in your lawn is pretty, but if left untended, your lawn is soon covered in weeds. I think advice to avoid and reconsider adverbs is good because it forces writers to strengthen their writing and seek the best wording. But complete abstinence may be overkill and result in awkward and stilted prose. If you sparingly use well-chosen adverbs, they can enhance the writing. (Yes, I just used an adverb in that last sentence.)
At their best, adverbs spice up a word or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it. Roy Peter Clark
What is your stance on adverbs?