Posted in Grammar, Writing

Mourning the death of the adverb

“Think different.”  Apple ad

“Drive safe.” Everywhere

“Eat healthy.” So many ads.

“Come quick.” What everyone seems to be saying

grammar copyMost writing style gurus who mourn the passing of the adverb seem to do so on the basis that we’ve been told to eliminate adverbs and adjectives from our writing.  I, on the other hand, see the death of the adverb not as death-by-overuse, rather death-by-misuse.  In other words, the way I see it, adverbs are only dying because so many people are grammatically challenged: they seem to think an adjective will work when and adverb is required. Or you change the meaning of a sentence.

I’m not a stickler for precise grammar in every instance if breaking the rule adds to the meaning: sentence fragments, for example, can be used for effect. Really. And beginning a sentence with a conjunction…well, sometimes it works given the pacing you’re looking for. (How about that preposition ending a sentence there?) However, when a grammatical mistake seems to muddy the meaning – making it impossible to avoid miscommunication – then it needs to be fixed.

Here’s are some particularly egregious examples that illustrate the trend:

  1. When Apple started using as an advertising tagline the exhortation: “Think different,” precisely what did they mean? Did they mean that our thinking should be different?  If so, then it should say think differently.  If they mean that the thoughts that we think should be different from previous thoughts, then that is a nuance of difference.  They should have said, “Think different thoughts,”  or maybe even, “Think something different,” different then being the adjective modifying “something.” There is a difference between the thinking process being different and the outcome – the thoughts – being different.  Although I’d accede to the fact that these two may be related.  And, oh, it just sounds bad. Not badly.
  2. Then there’s the “Drive safe” exhortation. If one more person says that to me as I leave somewhere to get into my car, I just might smack that person. The advice is for me to “drive safely,” or just shut up.
  3. And what about the “eat healthy” catchphrase? Isn’t there something missing here? Eat healthy what? Eat a healthy dinner? Snack? Oh, or do you mean to heat healthily in general? The meaning is as clear as mud.

Every day I mourn a little when I hear those radio advertisements that are rife with grammatical errors – and the loss of the adverb seems to be the most common. Is it really so difficult to figure out what you want to say and then say it clearly? NOT clear!


Reading, writing & publishing. Doing things differently.

7 thoughts on “Mourning the death of the adverb

  1. Bravo, Patricia! I am sick to death of the current crop of self-appointed “novel nazis” who advocate the removal of descriptive words from our writing. Adjectives and adverbs add color and individuality to our prose, and give each one of us our “voice”, and I for one do not want my novels to sound like newspaper articles.

  2. This is one of my pet peeves. He played brilliant. She cooked the dish excellent. The police moved quick on the suspect. ARRRRGGGGH. Hurts my ears as much as bad music. 🙂 Thanks for the article. I’m sharing on FB.

  3. Thank you, I don’t feel as alone in my grief! I mourn the loss of adverbs; the ubiquitous misuse of “I” such as “He spoke to John and I about attending the lecture”; beginning the answer to any question with “So”; not recognizing certain words as plurals (data, criteria, media, phenomena); inane grammar such as “Be best”…huh? Grammar gods help us all!

  4. I am thrilled. The death of the adverb in the spoken and written word GRATES on my ear. To me, it makes the orator or author seem to be stupid or uneducated. Can this horrendous tendency to eliminate the adverb be fixed?

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