Use adverbs sparingly. At their best, they spice up a verb or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in the sentence:

  • The blast completely destroyed the church office.
  • The cheerleader gyrated wildly before the screaming fans.
  • The accident totally severed the boy's arm.
  • The spy peered furtively through the bushes.

Consider the effect of deleting the adverbs:

  • The blast destroyed the church office.
  • The cheerleader gyrated before the screaming fans.
  • The accident severed the boy's arm.
  • The spy peered through the bushes.

In each case, the edit shortens the sentence, sharpens the point and creates elbow room for the verb.

Try this at home: Look through a recent story (whether something you've written or the work of another author) for any word that ends in -ly. If it is an adverb, delete it and read the new sentence aloud. You'll see whether the adverb added power to the sentence or merely took up space.

Taken from The Writer's Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use, a self-directed course by Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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