Writing

207 – Adverbs, Why All the Hate?

The Mythcreant Podcast
For a lot of people, “adverbs” mean all those pesky words ending in “-ly” that tell rather than show, but it turns out there’s more. A lot more. Would you believe it if we told you that a huge junk of our words are in fact adverbs, maybe even a majority of them? Well that’s what we’re talking about today, starting with an in-depth look at what exactly adverbs are. From there, we discuss why so many writers seem to hate them, how they can best be used, and when you really should cut them out.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

On Writing

The Elements of Style

Stranger Than Fiction

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Comments

  1. Roger

    I don’t get this podcast too much. If you will excuse some metacriticism on my part – the podcast really took too much time to get to the actual writing tips. I know you had to first specify what is an adverb, but that part was really bloated and should have iunstead been dealt with in a concise “straight-to-the-point-let’s-get-it-over-with” way.

    I’m not a linguist, but an adverb is a relatively simple concept to me, it is a word that provides an answer to the “how?” question (sometimes “where?” and “when?”). “How?” – slowly, soon, almost, well…

    Adverbs serve many purposes in language, that is why almost every language has them and they are not phased out.

    From a writing perspective the first “function” of an adverb that comes to mind is making a short description of something without going into too much unnecessary detail that would otherwise slow the pace down.

    Example: “She walked slowly across the room, careful not to bump into anything”
    Versus: “It took her 38 seconds to move from one end to the other of the 8 meter long room, because she wanted to avoid bumping into any objects on the way”

    Sometimes when the details are very important (say in a detective story) we might go for the longer more detailed description, but in most cases the adverb is perfect to speed up the pace of the narrative.

    Another point you beriefly mentioned (with the E.A Poe) adverbs in english were more commonly used in the past. So if you want to write something that resembles a period letter or a chronicle etc, then you might want to put the adverbs there on purpose.

    A sentence from a modern email could be: “His speech was pointless and boring like hell”
    The same meaning in a period letter would look more authentic if it was: “I found his speech to be quite pointless and excruciatingly boring.”

  2. Julia

    Overused adverbs? Surely you can’t be serious.

  3. DJ

    Words that end in “LE?”

    I’m just going leave this hanging here.

  4. Kelly

    OK. I am a linguist, so I’m gonna apologize right off the bat for being so annoyed with this episode.

    Adverbs are words that modify verbs (usually telling when or how the action happened, or according to some people, where – though that one I disagree with on a philosophical level). They can also modify adjectives (painfully ugly, incredibly small). That’s it.

    But entire phrases are not adverbs. “Until the cows come home” is not an adverb. It’s an *adverbial phrase*, but that’s not the same thing. It’s an (adverb-article-noun-verb-noun) phrase, and sure, it’s telling when something happens, but that doesn’t cancel out what those words actually *mean*. Noun phrases aren’t nouns. Verb phrases contain all kids of crap. Phrase structure is different from parts of speech.

    Most of us don’t need a detailed understanding of syntax in order to write, but this podcast probably is probably going to confuse people more than clarify anything.

    On a cheerier note, you guys are hilarious

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