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12 Comments

  • Oh dear, and I thought the world had had its share of prescriptivists. It seems there’s always room for a new one. :/

  • Adam: I can understand why no one has challenged you about this: everyone has taken your advice and sought “a more measured discussion” in Paquot (2010). Or maybe they are busy counting the number of adverbs you yourself use in this piece, and wondering what it’s all about. So I’ll barge in to state the obvious – adverbs are a huge diverse class and a necessary part of the systems of choices available to us. You say that if you take all the adverbs out of a text, then “usually, the meaning is still exactly the same” (I counted three adverbs there!), But this applies only to bad writing; in good writing every word is doing something useful.The adverbs you throw out are themselves innocent. (Well most of them are, though I agree about ‘interestingly’, and its pal ‘arguably’. )

    Secondly, adverbs are the dustbin among word classes, as you point out. But maybe it is more like a high street charity shop than a dustbin: you can find some indispensable stuff in there. ‘Off’, ‘away, ‘down’, ‘back’, ‘out’, ‘first’ and ‘last’ are all adverbs in one or more of their major senses, and without them we wouldn’t have a clue where we are or how we got there.

  • Wonder if you are familiar with M. K. Halliday’s metafunctions of language? (Ideational. textual and interpersonal). Adverbs have a key role to play both in textual and interpersonal meaning. Suggest you checkout Systemtic Functional Lingusitics and try to be just a tad less prescriptive.

  • I have heard people say similar things about adjectives. I think Marc Twain hated them to the point that he even exhorted people to kill any adjective they catch. Anyway, I like every word in the language. It is true that adjectives and adverbs don’t add much meaning, but if you remove all of them, your writing will be reduced to bare bones. I don’t think that any sensible writer would do that.

  • The world would be a sad place without adverbs, just as it would be a sad place without adjectives, or any other “word class” we can name. Just because adverbs are a “dustbin category” (I believe Crystal was the one who coined that term, in The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language ) doesn’t mean they are to be discarded. Crystal called them a “dustbin category” because anything we can’t classify easily can be shoved into the “adverbs” pigeonhole. So let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. True, they can be over-used, but so can complex noun phrases, for instance, and I don’t remember hearing or reading about people complaining about complex noun phrases.
    Leave adverbs alone: they have much to contribute in the communication of thoughts, feelings and opinions. A text without them communicates information about the world, perhaps, but not about our place in it.

  • Well said Gill.
    Much of what you say relates to Halliday’s interpersonal metafunction in language. I tend to think the dropping of adjectives and adverbs is like reducing language to a black and white photo.

  • I cannot but disagree, Adam. Leaving adverbs aside renders writing and speaking semantically weak.

  • Often, the “ly” adverbs let us use active voice more so than otherwise. “They often put things clumsily” is active. “They are often just clumsy” is passive. I and most readers much prefer active voice. Also, “ly” adverbs give us more oppty to change up the phrasing, cadence and formation of a sentence, keeping our writing fresh. I see no reason to avoid their use!

  • […] http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/new-years-resolution-no-adverbs (Adam Kilgarriff)http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/13/stephen-king-on-adverbs/ http://grammar.about.com/od/basicsentencegrammar/a/adverbquotes.htm (Richard Nordquist)http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/why-pick-on-adverbs (Michael Rundell)http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2013/02/20/being-an-adverb/ (Geoffrey Pullman) […]