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Inlandia Literary Journeys: Poet points out the perils of “ly”-ing

By in Press Enterprise on February 3, 2018

By Staff report

Even if you hated grammar in school, you have probably heard that adverbs are the bane of any good piece of writing. But what is an adverb and why should you care?

An adverb is a word that adds some quality to a verb, i.e. “she wrote sloppily.” To begin with, there is nothing wrong with adverbs, and there is nothing wrong, per se, with adverbs ending in “-ly.” For example, few would take exception to statements like “He ate quickly;” or “She looked at him steadily;” “He moved rapidly;” “She spoke loudly;” “He touched her lightly on the shoulder.”

The adverbs here don’t stop us, make us wonder what exactly the author is trying to convey. We aren’t pulled up short.

But some “-ly” adverbs jar. When they are made-up words, they can sound wrong. Of course I’ve made up words, too, in my writing. But listening to audio fiction over the years, especially, I noticed quite a few instances when that adverb with an “ly” at the end made me pause, made me question.

The word didn’t seem right, or didn’t seem a good choice. Below are examples I jotted down over the years. And even though I made a note, in some instances, of the author and the novel (a couple were award-winning writers of literary fiction), I don’t want to disparage anyone, just point out why a writer ought to be wary of using modifiers like these.

I am sure that the reasons for avoiding these sorts of uses (below) make sense to most writers. But I offer them as a reminder:

“She drank the water gulpingly.” (Better to write, “She gulped the water.”)

“They didn’t even look glancingly in her direction.” (Why not just write, “They didn’t even glance in her direction?”)

“She snapped almost incredulously?” (Hard to get a grasp on how […]    

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