You would have thought that somewhere along the way, I would have heard this advice. No high school or college English teacher ever mentioned it to me. It is a simple warning. Adverbs and intensifying words weaken sentences. Here is an example:
OK: Her purse was very small.
I get it, she had a tiny purse.
WAY BETTER: Her purse was miniscule.
Doesn’t that paint a better picture of a purse the size of a pea pod? In the example above, “miniscule” is a stronger word than “small.”
I learned this tip in John R. Trimble’s book Writing with Style, Conversations on the Art of Writing, an excellent resource for anyone who writes anything from an email to a novel. Being a diligent researcher, I discovered that many others have given the same advice. Where have I been?
Here is an example of weak “ly” adverb use:
OK: When she quietly entered the room, she annoyingly startled me.
WAY BETTER: She crept into the room like a burglar and I jumped like a startled cat.
Do you know anyone who can loudly creep…? Er, creep like a gorilla? Creep implies quiet. Isn’t being startled annoying?
Worse than the lowly adverb is the use of multiple intensifiers. I really, really, really hate that. Oops, I mean I abhor that!
Granted, a well-placed adverb has its place, but searching my writing for “ly” words and very, really, extremely, terribly, and the like made it much better.
Thanks very much Professor Trimble! Or rather I should say, my undying gratitude…