Readers with long memories may recall Tom Swiftie jokes from the early 1960s. Named after the hero in the Tom Swift series of juvenile adventure novels, Tom Swifties relied on a corny use of adverbs. Here are examples:
“The temperature is 200 degrees!” said Tom, heatedly.
“It’s the Hound of the Baskervilles!” said Tom, doggedly.
After a year or so, Tom Swifties retired to the Home for Antique Humour, there to join shaggy dog stories and knock-knock jokes.
But Tom Swifties taught a lesson: Adverbs matter. That’s why writers should use adverbs carefully — and sparingly.
When you think of using an adverb, ask: Is it necessary? Sometimes the verb alone conveys all the needed information.
Consider: “I don’t need help!” she snarled angrily.
Here, the verb “snarled” tells the readers all they need to know. “Angrily” is redundant. Cut it out.
Let’s take another example: “At the airport, he inched slowly to the ticket counter.” You don’t need “slowly” here. There’s no other way you can inch.
Yet don’t be afraid to use adverbs when required. For instance: “Quickly and silently, she moved to the window.” Here you need two adverbs — “quickly and silently” — to tell how the person moved.
Remember that adverbs slow down reading. So use them only when you’re sure they’re needed.
To close with a Tom Swiftie: “Use adverbs only to add significant information,” said Tom, meaningfully.
Have you come across examples of over-the-top adverbs? Please share them in the comments below.
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