Monday, October 8, 2007

Adverbs and Adjectives: Use Them Surely

As you may have noticed, my Internet access has been spotty lately. I hate to mention it every time I cannot post, but I want to apologize for the erratic schedule here, especially in light of my promise to post more on adverbs and adjectives yesterday. I hope that today’s post on that subject will make up for it, a bit.

As I mentioned in my post on the use of good versus well, adverbs are words that modify or describe verbs. In many cases, you can make an adverb by adding an “-ly” to the end of an adjective. Thus you can write:

I was tense. (Tense describes you and shows itself as an adjective.)
I paced tensely. (Tensely describes your pacing rather than you, although the fact that you are pacing in such a manner implies that you are, in fact, tense.)
There are a few rules that will help you decide whether an adjective or an adverb fits a particular sentence.

If you are using a form of “to be” then the predicate (the part after the verb) describes the subject rather than the “being”. Then again, the war on the passive voice should eliminate the “being” in favor of acting.

If your verb involves one of the senses (seeing, smelling, touching) then the rest of the sentence either describes the subject with an adjective or explains how the subject used that sense with an adverb.
The pie smelled delicious. (It was a delicious-smelling pie, rather than one that smelled other things in a delicious manner, whatever that may be.)
He sniffed the pie delicately. (He gave the pie a delicate sniff, as opposed to the
pie being delicate.)
The knives looked sharp.
She eyed the knives warily.
Using adverbs to describe the action in your sentences can help to set a scene without resorting to telling your readers what happens or how a character is feeling. Be wary, however, of adding too many. They can make your sentence awkward and wordy instead of adding clarity. Writing, “She walked forcefully across the room,” doesn’t make quite the impression that “She strode across the room.” If you need to modify your verb with an adverb, check to see if there a better verb would do the work for itself. The advice holds true for using adjectives as well. Remember your friend, the thesaurus!

For an excellent review and great examples of adverbs that do not use the “-ly” addition, visit the Internet Grammar of English pages.