Monday, May 16, 2011

Hurrah for Adverbs

Cover image of Plotnik's book from Viva Editions

Like other fashions, writing styles change. These days, in some quarters, using adverbs is frowned on. This is a trend of which I do not approve. I admit to having a weakness for adverbs; in fact, some might argue that I am inordinately fond of adverbs, as I have admitted in this blog before.

Reading the May issue of The Writer, I was delighted to find my affection for adverbs vindicated by none other than Arthur Plotnik, a respected editor and author of Spunk and Bite: a Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style (Random House, 2007).

In an article entitled 'Superlatives 101,' Plotnik advises writers to "put aside any old-fashioned bias against the -ly adverb, one of the best devices for propping up a bland adjective with energetic descriptions of manner or degree...How sweet? kneebucklingly sweet (from David Foster Wallace). How scary? horripilatingly scary (makes the hair stand on end)." (p26)

Incidentally, the first sentence of the New York Times obituary of the influential David Foster Wallace, contains six -ly adverbs. (He died in 2008 at age 46.)

Plotnik does add a caution that "the adverb must sound fresh. Be inventive and playful," he advises, and "... don't overdo it." (p 26)

I could rest my case here. But I feel compelled to mention the title of Plotnik's upcoming book, due out June 1: Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives (Viva Editions.)


  1. Boldly (and pleasingly) said!


    Art P.

  2. When I first moved to B.C., I was awed by the ubiquitous and prodigiously prolific blackberry bush that tenaciously grew in a gallimaufry of conditions.

    We are blessed with our English language, for it, too, is as fecund as the blackberry. Choosing and using the "fruits" of our language is what makes writing so much fun!