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Keep an eye on the “-ly.”

Modifiers are great. Adverbs and adjectives help us add more color and flavor to our work. They’re great additions to any piece of writing, when they’re used appropriately. That’s right. Like everything else, there are the right and the wrong ways to use modifiers.

Today we’re going to specifically look at adverbs. Just a quick refresher, adverbs are words that modify verbs, other adverbs, and adjectives (adjectives are words that modify nouns, pronouns, and phrases acting as nouns). Even more than that, we’re going to look at adverbs that end with the letters “-ly.”

Adverbs that end with “-ly” are pretty common, probably because slapping an “-ly” to the end of an adjective basically turns it into an adverb. It’s easy, effective, and simple. Unfortunately, it can be something else, too: lazy.

Cleaning out the “-ly” adverbs in your writing can really help tighten and strengthen the language. Let’s look at it, shall we?

She wearily walked into the room.
Versus
She sloped into the room.

Noel cried heavily into her pillow.
Verus
Noel bawled into her pillow.

The night passed slowly, until the morning light quietly shone through the window.
Versus
The night snailed by, until the morning light peeked through the window.

See how much more powerful the second examples are when the “-ly” adverbs are replaced instead with stronger verbs? Adverbs can be great, but sometimes instead of adding to our writing, they prompt us to leave weaker language alone. More words isn’t always better.

Here’s a great writing exercise for you:

Next time you revise your writing, hunt down any “-ly” adverbs and consider the phrases they’re attached to. Is there a way for you to replace the adverb and the verb it modifies into a stronger verb on its own?

Let me know how that works out for you!

Cheers,
–MC

Categories: Exercises, Tips and Tricks, Writing

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