NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.


As I’ve said before I’m not going to tell you to cut out all the adverbs in your story. Partly because adverbs are sometimes the most direct way to phrase something without an unnecessarily long sentence. Trying to cut out all adverbs is also impossible because adverbs aren’t only ‘ly’ words, a wide range of words can become adverbs depending on the context in which we use them (see here and here for past adverb articles). Today we’re looking at adverbs we don’t need because they describe something that is implicit in the word they’re acting on.

By describing something that is implicit what I mean is things like, ‘running quickly’, ‘screaming loudly’, or ‘whispering quietly’. Running isn’t slow, screaming isn’t quiet and… ah, here we have something, whispering is quiet but we can whisper loudly. You’re first reaction might be ‘um, no we don’t’. However, we have the stage whisper where an actor projects their voice while the character is supposed to be whispering, not a true whisper but it’s called one. There also the deliberately audible whisper often used when someone is pretending they’re not trying to say something loudly or used by children when they haven’t quite grasped whispering. So while we don’t need to say a whisper was quiet we might need to describe if a whisper was loud because this says something about the intent of a character.

On a similar note we could consider the word walk, which could cover anything from a slow walk to a stride. We could argue that instead of an adverb we could use a word that describes the way the character is walking such as, shuffle, hurry, or pace. However, although we have different words for different types of walking we could also suggest that a stride isn’t necessarily the same as a quick walk as it could suggest moving quickly with purpose, nor is pacing which could imply an anxious walk, often back-and-forth, or stomp which could suggest a walk that involves a lot of stamping. Sometimes our characters just walk quickly. Perhaps they’re trying not to draw attention while trying to escape someone they don’t want to talk to, they could stride but if we look at stride as walking quickly with purpose it is something that could draw attention. They definitely won’t stomp because that would draw attention. Pacing doesn’t seem right either, they’re definitely doing in one direction and they’re not thoughtful, or necessarily anxious, they simply want to get out of a characters line of sight so they walk quickly to duck behind some shelves or a corner out of sight. By saying they walked quickly we’ve told the reader they accelerated but not so much they did something other than a basic walk.

As I said at the beginning we don’t have to cut all the adverbs but it is a good idea to consider whether we need an adverb or not. Are we using it to tell the reader something that is already evident? Or are we using it to convey something directly that is not implicit in the rest of the description?


For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more articles on grammar try Finding Your Toolbox.

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

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