In Defense of Adverbs

The much-maligned adverb is in need of a defender, and I have decided to step up to fulfill that role. Bad writers have abused the poor word group almost to extinction, and people who don’t understand grammar or writing — or the history of either — have supported the adverb’s banishment from modern writing. However, open up any classic work of literature, and you’ll find prose littered with adverbs. Why? Because they serve a real, legitimate purpose! Now, that’s not to say they shouldn’t be used judiciously, but all words should be chosen carefully, regardless of what category they fall into.

In an effort to help bring these beautifully descriptive words back to life, please consider the following sentences from famous authors. Some of these are magically crafted prose, and others simply have an adverb to show that it’s ok to toss one in from time to time.

“thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history” -Salman Rushdie

“At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eyes.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

“‘I incline to Cain’s heresy,’ he used to say quaintly: ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.'” -Robert Louis Stevenson

“it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance” -Bram Stoker

“In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers.” -Carson McCullers

“But it was so oddly and intricately shaped, so clearly intended for some complex purpose…” -Carl Sagan

“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim” -Anthony Burgess

“I was deprived of my left eye while commanding a platoon of Army Engineers, curiously enough artists of one sort” -Kurt Vonnegut

“Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions” -George Orwell

“Macdonald was dead, and he still smelled violently of whiskey.” (Raymond Chandler) [This one is courtesy of @thudfactor]

“One did not stare at people through binoculars normally,” -Alexander McCall Smith

“for, as I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground” -Jonathan Swift

“But Andrew just looked at them both very haughtily and barked sharply in the direction of Mary Poppins.” -P. L. Travers

“She looked expectantly at the black part in Leota’s yellow curls as she bent to light a cigarette.” -Eudora Welty

“The water ended on the fourth day, and we were already thinking strange things and saying them with our eyes.” -H. G. Wells

“But the Starling leapt aside and flew up to the window-frame, whistling wickedly, well out of reach.” -P.L. Travers

“when a subject is highly controversial — and any question about sex is that — one cannot hope to tell the truth.” Virginia Woolf

“But they needed other aids, for their teeth and nails could not readily dismember anything larger than a rabbit.” -Arthur C. Clarke

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