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-ly Adverbs. How to write badly.

-ly Adverbs. How to write badly.

When editing a manuscript, some words deserve to die – not always, but usually.” – Tameri Publications

Young adult writers, any writers actually, have heard it said that -ly adverbs are bad. In most situations this is true. Before you argue otherwise, let’s take a look at why you should strive to eliminate -ly adverbs from your writing.


1) Many adverbs used are redundant

Have you ever read that someone crept quietly across the room? Exactly how else would you creep across a room? Banging your feet? Perhaps someone yelled loudly as opposed to those quiet yellers we hear. Whenever you’re about to use an -ly verb ask yourself if it is really enhancing the verb you’ve chosen or if you’re just trying to get more words on the page.

2) Some adverbs don’t make sense.

I remember a comment about an idea that could “literally make your head spin” and yet I survived. And after that marathon are you completely exhausted?  Make sure the your adverb doesn’t contradict the definition of the verb its modifying. Also make sure the adverb isn’t included in the verb’s definition.

3) Sometimes you’re just trying to fill space

One of the most frequent places to find adverbs is after “said.”

“Ok,” Kelly said sadly.

In longer sections of dialogue, writers often feel that they need to enhance sentences by throwing in some adverbs to break up the monotony of several “said”s. A better option would be to reword the sentence to omit the need for a dialogue tag or word the dialogue so the potential adverb is implied and you don’t need to use it.

A tear rolled down Kelly’s cheek. “Ok.”

4) A better verb eliminates the use of an adverb

Did she “sit sadly” or did she “sulk?” Did he “run quickly” or did he “sprint,” “dash,” or “bolt?” Often times writers realize that the verb they’re using doesn’t clearly express the image they’re trying to project. Instead of adding an adverb, try a different verb. With thousands of them to choose from, why not expand your vocabulary, and possibly that of your readers, and try some new ones out.

5) Instead of an adverb, add descriptive text. (Show instead of tell.)

“The training went on endlessly.” Really? What happened? Here’s an opportunity for paragraphs of description to show the struggle and determination of the character in question. Why sum it up in a sentence? Don’t miss an opportunity to engage your readers and increase their connection to your characters.


I hope you can now see that elimination of -ly adverbs can take your writing skills to a much higher level. This isn’t just about some people saying, “Don’t use ‘ly adverbs! They’re bad!” You writing and your readers will benefit from this practice. Not usually, always.


  1. I love adverbs in dialogue. It’s real and honest.

    • Yes, you’re correct. That’s just how people talk. But it should be minimized in prose.

  2. While not all reminders of High School are appreciated, your post pulls me back to my freshman English class. Knowing when to include the -ly adverbs is similar to removing the “to be” verbs from your work (a reminder from my daughter). As a graphic designer I appreciate these little nudges. Thank you for the reminder.

    Suzanne Fyhrie Parrott