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How to write stronger sentences with fewer adverbs

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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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager. She is the author of Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More – a self-directed e-learning course that consistently is ranked as one of the most popular courses at Poynter News University. Other work includes producing “Best Newspaper Writing,” the annual collection of the ASNE Distinguished Writing Award winners and finalists, and editing “Aim for the Heart,” a book by Poynter’s Al Tompkins for TV reporters and producers. You can follow her on Twitter at @vkrueger and @newsu.

(via Poynter)