Be Choosy with LY Adverbs

“Be Choosy with LY Adverbs” by Joan Y. Edwards

Be choosy with LY adverbs like great authors. Don’t overdo it.

Sam looked adoringly at his beautifully dressed date and ran quickly to the jewelry store to buy her a diamond.

Can you think of a better way to rephrase this sentence leaving out the LY adverbs?

I stand in favor of not using LY adverbs. However, according to Ben Blatt, even best-selling authors use at least 49 of them for every 10,000 words. I  challenge you to check your manuscript for LY adverbs. They tend to pop right into your manuscripts without your even thinking about it.

Using fewer LY adverbs is one factor that will make your books stronger and sell more copies.  When you take out the adverb ending in LY and substitute stronger description words, it makes your writing stronger. It makes readers yearn to read your writing.

Writers who use fewer adverbs may wisely focus more time in choosing words that are more relevant and meaningful in their books. They brainstorm better ways to say what they mean.

In Ben Blatt’s book, “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve,” he has charts that show how many LY adverbs famous writers used in their books. What is intriguing to me is that the books that sold the most copies, won the most awards, or had the highest number of readers  had fewer LY adverbs than the other books written by the same authors.

Here are three authors with their books that have fewer LY adverbs:

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
  2. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations both had fewer LY adverbs than his other 13 books.
  3. John Updike –  Rabbit Is Rich (1982) and Rabbit at Rest(1990) were both recognized with the Pulitzer Prize and they had the least number of adverbs in them than his other books.

In view of this information, I suggest that you delete the LY adverbs in your manuscripts and concentrate your mind on adding words that indicate more about your characters and the problems they face. Using LY adverbs in your draft manuscript is a place to begin, but not a place to end. Delete them in the final copy of your book.

Please share your favorite authors and tell us if they use an abundance of LY adverbs or if they are choosy with them. Resources follow my signature.

GIVEAWAY Complete.

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  1. Ben Blatt. “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:”
  2. Maria Popova. “Stephen King on Adverbs:”
  3. Wikipedia. “John Updike:”

13 thoughts on “Be Choosy with LY Adverbs”

  1. So helpful, as always! No need to enter my name in the drawing, but I hope many others will participate.

  2. Joan, I’ll quickly pen a nicely constructed comment on your excitingly constructive little essay (I can’t think of a -ly word to put here.)
    Oh… belatedly I checked back and you want your visitors to do without -ly words?
    Many people in the book trade have a -ly phobia and want to ban it altogether. I am glad you haven’t joined this tribe but are recommending minimization rather than elimination. Like all tools, it has its place.
    I haven’t counted instances in my writing. It’s certainly there, but very thinly peppered.

    1. Dear Bob,
      Thank you for writing. It is good to hear from you. I’m glad you think I gave good advice in my post in recommending minimization rather than elimination of adverbs ending in LY.

      Never Give Up

      1. Dear Gretchen,
        Thank you for writing. It is a pleasure to hear from you. Glad you agreed with Bob that it was good that I didn’t ban adverbs ending in LY, but cautioned you about limiting their use.

        Never Give Up

  3. Interesting post, Joan. I especially liked learning about the best selling authors selling more books because of the lack of adverbs. Fascinating to learn. 🙂

    1. Dear Shawn,
      Thanks for writing. I love hearing from you. You’re right. It’s fascinating to learn that best-selling authors sell more books when they have fewer adverbs ending in LY. Definitely food for thought, right?

      Never Give Up

  4. GIVEAWAY Complete.
    Winners: Linda Andersen Gutheil, Bob Rich, Gretchen Griffith, Shawn Crane Simon, and Carol Baldwin left a comment on this post between January 30th and midnight February 8, 2019. I decided since it was close to Valentine’s Day I would award free critiques of 1,000 words of a manuscript to all 5 of these people.

    I’ll make special notice of any LY adverbs and suggest words to replace them. I’ll do a line by line edit of punctuation. I’ll also let them know where their meaning is not clear.

    I’ll send winners an email, too.

    Never Give Up

      1. Dear Gretchen,
        You are very welcome! Thanks for your Happy Valentine’s Day wishes! I hope you have a Happy Valentine’s Day, too. It’s a great day to celebrate being your sweet self.

        Never Give Up


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