Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Lexiconicide: Adverbs


2010
05.24

I think I am going to start a new semi-regular topic on lexiconicide, the mass murder of various items from the English lexicon. Yes, it’s a made up word. Yes, there is probably a better word, or one that already exists that means the same thing, but I like this one!

To kick things off, let’s take a gander at the much hated, overused, abused, enabling, etc etc etc… adverb.

Lately, (ha! adverb!) adverbs have been getting kicked around like a Lego that a dad steps on, only to be sworn at and tossed in the trash. Why the bad wrap? Why is it that so many agents say that adverbs are evil? Are they really even saying this, or is it some crazy conspiracy?

Yes and no.

What they are saying, is “ly” adverbs (mostly) are a common sign of weak writing. Typically, (ha! another one!) a stronger verb can be used instead of an “ly” adverb + verb combo. So, to make things easy, they say, “No ‘ly’ adverbs.” Some say never, while others will give you some sort of ratio of what is acceptable.

I think it’s a another case of, “Right problem, wrong fix.”

Want to know my take on the matter? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this (unless you are my friends and family, in which case, the $5 is in the mail… thanks for following 😉 )

Here is a cleaned up version of something I posted in Nathan Bransford’s forum on this topic.

The rule, “never use adverbs,” or, “only use adverbs that don’t end in ‘ly’,” or all of the other variations out there, was originally intended to make writers throw away week modifiers in place of better verbs. All too often, writers will choose a modifier+verb instead of the proper verb. Example:

“He spoke quietly.”

vs.

“He whispered.” < there are, of course, several different possibilities.

Unfortunately, I think the rule has grown into a monster who feeds on the flesh of new writers. Trained and coddled by unsuspecting lobbyists for the anti-adverb movement, the rule has lost its intention. Instead of helping/forcing writers to use stronger verbs (hence, tighter prose), the rule has been blindly used to abolish the poor little adverb from any manuscript in town.

I suggest that the adverb should only be slaughtered from your sentence if:

1) A stronger verb can be found to replace the adverb+verb combo… the new word must be common enough that your target audience doesn’t need a dictionary

2) The adverb is redundant. IE: “He whispered quietly.”

3) The adverb is replacing emotion that should be shown instead of told. IE: “He laughed happily.” Look here to see what I mean by showing vs. telling

4) The adverb is but one in a series (bad bad bad bad !). IE: “He quickly and quietly jumped over the log.”

5) Removing the adverb doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence at all

6) Most importantly, replacing the adverb with other words to convey the same meaning doesn’t change your voice, flow or rhythm.
On the contrary, if the only way to remove the adverb is to replace it with a million dollar scrabble word, or if removing it would change the meaning and there is no clean way of showing the same thing, while retaining your voice, flow and cadence/rhythm, then leave the little fellow in there. Let him shine, and do his job. After all, adverbs are part of the language, too.

So what say you, dear reader? I’d like to know both your personal feelings on the matter, AND if you’ve heard an agent or editor comment on the matter, what they had to say about it.

That versus Who


2010
03.18

I was IM’ing with a buddy of mine today when he asked me to proof read a blog post before he published it. I obliged, and found practically no errors (not a surprise, the man is a genius).

Anyway, later in he day, he teased me about missing several instances of the word “that” when it should have been “who.” Example:

“I know a guy that once at a McDonlad’s Cheeseburger in one bite.”

versus

“I know a guy who once at a McDonlad’s Cheeseburger in one bite.”

This sparked a little debate between us. Oh, don’t worry; it was a fun debate… we have them all the time (in fact, we have practically started a list of debates that we can pull from whenever bored). You see, I am not a believer. I don’t think that using “who” when the object is a person is a must.

His point was that there are several (probably in the thousands) of websites that prove that point. Go ahead, google it. To his credit, it is the popular consensus. I, however, do not always believe the popular consensus. This is the perfect example.

I think that you can use either. “That” has been used in literature, instead of “who,” for YEARS. In fact, Websters Dictionary AND American Heritage Dictionary BOTH openly reject the idea that you must use “who” when the object is a person. I found a handful of other websites to back up my point as well, and that brings me to the real point of this little post…

If it isn’t a 100%, undisputed, without a doubt grammar rule, don’t try to nitpick it. Why? Because someone like me, who debates just for the sake of it, will find a legitimate source (like a dictionary) to prove you wrong. Ha!

Now, while I discourage you from nitpicking grammar when there is no “absolute,” I will NEVER discourage you from sharing your opinion with other writers. Just make sure that you disclose it as your “opinion.”

Official Disclaimer: I only took the side of “that” because it was a fun debate. I do think you can do it either way, but I don’t think those who believe that you have to use “who” are unintelligent. I hold no grudges toward those THAT (lol) choose to use “who” instead of “that”. And, for the record, Ryan (the person I debated with) may use it however he wants, and I will still think he is an excellent writer. 🙂