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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Let's Give Adverbs a Little Love for Valentine's Day

Pity the poor adverb, the least respected, most abused part of speech.

First of all, there’s the brawny verb, always doing something energetic, kind of the Hulk of grammar, smashing or running or jumping or, in some case, simply being. Run. Dance. Write. Laugh. Exterminate. You can almost hear his shirt tearing.

Then there are the nouns, the prima donnas of the parts of speech. "We’re the names of things," they whine. "Everything, but everything has a naaaame." Table. Chair. Computer. Pen, paper, ink…you can understand how nouns have swollen heads. They’re surrounded, submerged, all but drowning in things they represent.

And where there are nouns, there must be adjectives, the handmaidens, the servants, the toadies. We can't just have a table; oh, no. We have to have a large, wooden, shiny, heavy, sturdy, gleaming, antique table. It’s not just a pen; it’s a fine-point black-ink gel pen. The sky is blue, or gray or cloudy. The sun is a brilliant bright orange. Adjectives: the sycophants of grammar.

But as if nouns didn’t already have swollen heads about themselves, they also have to have an entire class of words to take their place. It’s almost as if the poor overworked nouns need to run off to the Hamptons for a long weekend once a month or more, so bring in the pronouns. While my sister is slathering on sunscreen, she is taking her place in a sentence. Even our old bright brilliant friend the sun may be off dancing with the moon, while it is subbing way up in the sky.

Prepositions, conjunctions, interjections, all little guys wandering around in sentences, but they get plenty of notice and pats on their little heads. Prepositions even get objects, and conjunctions are like chains or pivot points, joining up things. And don’t even get me started on interjections, those excitable little dudes who get exclamation points! Wow! Cool! Awesome!

Then, sneaking along behind, embarrassed to be seen, picking up crumbs at the grammar banquet with their little –ly tails dragging in the dust behind them, there’s the lowly adverb. Gone are the adverbial glory days—if they ever existed. Read what Mark Twain had to say about the poor little guys:

"I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't." 

Even Stephen King said "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."  

Ouch! Well, yes, okay, it’s true. Adverbs can be a sign of weak writing, a cry for stronger verbs. But don’t they deserve a little respect instead of being ostracized and sent into the outer darkness? If someone is eating voraciously, isn’t that easier to say than ‘as if he hasn’t had a meal in days’ if only for word count alone? 

I confess it, loud and proud: I have any unholy passion for the red-headed step-child of grammar, the lowly adverb. So sue me.  

And don’t even get me started on the tragic semicolon, poor, misunderstood bastard child of a period and a comma…

1 comment:

  1. hahaha
    I love adverbs too. My character doesn't just turn, s/he turns quickly. Come on, don't stop me so suddenly (G). BTW, a wonderful description of nouns, adjectives, etc., every writer should have this pasted to their desk. Thanks sweetie. Your fan ...

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