Tag Archives: adverbs

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.

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  1. Ben Blatt. “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:” https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1501105388/
  2. Grammar Book.com. “Adjectives and Adverbs: When to Use ly: https://data.grammarbook.com/blog/adjectives-adverbs/adjectives-and-adverbs-when-to-use-ly/
  3. Grammar. Your Dictionary.com. “List of Adverbs:” https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/adverbs/list-of-adverbs.html 
  4. Maria Popova. “Stephen King on Adverbs:” https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/03/13/stephen-king-on-adverbs/
  5. Melissa Donovan. “Writing Tips: Abolish the Adverbs:” https://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/avoid-adverbs
  6. Wikipedia. “John Updike:” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Updike






Use Plain Said; Cut the “ly” words

Our elementary school writing teachers spent a great deal of time getting us to add interesting tag words to our writing.

“Help. The house is on fire,” John said excitedly.

“Just what we needed,” Eric shouted angrily.

Esther whispered dejectedly as she wiped her tears, “I am at the bottom of my barrel.”

The expert advice I’ve read says, “Use plain said.” Other words distract readers and take them out of your story (which you don’t want).  Distracting words are: uttered, whispered, shouted, repeated, stormed, chuckled, laughed, answered, or others that mean said.

Choose words for your dialogue that show the emotion.  Put words in your character’s mouth that would come from someone feeling that emotion.  What would your character say if he was excited?

To show “excitedly,” add a beat to your manuscript. A beat is writer’s jargon for action. Add action to show the emotion of your characters. What would your character do if he was excited? Add it to your manuscript.

Check your manuscript. Many times your dialogue already contains words that describe the emotion and then you added the “ly” word. Cut the “ly” words.  These “ly” words are telling words.  Replace your “ly” words with dialogue and action to show the emotion.

Here are three sources that explain using simple dialogue tags and leaving out adverbs in more detail.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison.


Please share your comments, questions, and/or resources below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Joan Y. Edwards, Author/Illustrator

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