What have you got against adverbs? What did they ever do to you?

loudI’ve noticed a disturbing trend that seems to be happening in the English language–at least in American English. Every time I heard this mistake, I cringe and wonder why it’s happening.

Evidently, people are not using adverbs correctly anymore. I keep hearing the “-ly” dropped from words in sentences often, and it makes me wonder why this is happening. Is it a lack of proper verbal education–not being taught to speak properly? Is it ignorance? Or is it part of an evolutionary process occurring in American English? (I haven’t noticed it when listening to British English on British television shows, which is why I think it might only be in the United States.)

Let me use some of the sentences that I’ve used above as examples, in which I’ll drop the “-ly” from the descriptor of the verb in the sentence.

“Evidently, people are not using adverbs correct anymore….Is it a lack of proper verbal education–not being taught to speak proper?”

See what I mean? This bothers me to no end, because I’m starting to see it in written English too, and, well…

IT’S NOT CORRECT!!

Perhaps I watch too much reality television that shows under-educated people who aren’t exactly the living examples of academia or professionalism. Even so, while I’ve noticed this trend in the past few years, it seems like it’s getting worse.  Is this evidence of the decay of American education? Perhaps.  I can tell you that being the “grammar police” of my household, this is always a concern to me. I want to make sure that my son speaks well and properly as he grows up and makes his way into the world. 

While I was writing this, it occurred to me that there is another consideration with this phenomenon related to technical communication.  This lack of correct adverb use can greatly affect translation and localization efforts. A huge issue that I’ve been hearing in tech comm is the need to write more clearly and in plain language to aid in better translation for localization.  If adverbs are not used correctly, how does that translate? In some languages, it might not matter, since some languages don’t use adverbs the same way English does. But most languages that I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve studied four, but far from mastered any of them) always had adverbs. Adverbs are simply proper grammar! So if improper grammar was used in a document, how would that reflect on the writer and the establishment the writer represented?

I implore my fellow technical communicators to please advocate for the adverb! Please make sure that adverbs are used properly, both in written and spoken language. We need to make corrections to preserve this important part of speech. Save the adverb!

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9 Responses to What have you got against adverbs? What did they ever do to you?

  1. Noa Dror says:

    I wholeheartedly share your frustration with this spreading phenomenon. I, too, am faced with the eternal dilemma whether to correct speakers and be declared the grammar prude or grimace on the inside, smile on the outside and resign myself to a harmonious yet inarticulate surrounding.

    Your post reminded me of a Quora article I recently encountered (in which the subject is discussed VERY articulately): http://www.quora.com/Writing/Why-are-adverbs-evil

    • That’s a great article, Noa. But there’s even the plain misuse of simple adverbs. For example, just last night, I was watching another one of my Real Housewives shows, and the response to a question was, “It went amazing.” Oh, I cringed. “Amazing” could’ve still been used if a different verb was utilized, namely, “was” to say, “It was amazing,”, thus using “amazing” as an adjective instead of an adverb. But if the speaker was set on using the verb “to go” in the past tense, it should have been, “It went amazingLY.” That’s the sort of thing that I’m hearing more and more. I fear that I’d be seen as a grammar prude as well, but it bothers me enough that in appropriate circumstances, I would make the correction. As technical communicators, we shouldn’t have to correct each other, but rather we should be the ones who are setting and holding up the standard. Not using adverbs correctly is simply lazy language.

      • sandra says:

        How true and upsetting all this misuse of adverbs is! Not only in the USA. The problem has been rife in Australia for years – and getting worse. I believe that people who are not sure of the use of adverbs – or even what an adverb is- just follow blindly what they hear and see in the media. It is deplorable that people from English speaking countries are not proficient in their own language. It seems that people who have English as a second language are better converses in English than those who have been raised with the language. Correcting others will only cause animosity, but those who know the correct usage should continue to maintain the standard of correct speech and writing……..and hope that it may filter through!!

  2. Pingback: Adverb |

  3. Bill M. says:

    ditto, I’ve noticed this for the past few years

  4. energuy says:

    Thank you for this! This is a battle that is very difficult to win. We must do what will make Lynne Truss proud. Unfortunately, this is now institutionalized. Our governments are “promoting” the misuse or the lack of use of adverbs, especially those ending in -ly. We have here in British Columbia the “WorkSafe” program and we are urged to “Drive Safe” on the highways. Good grief!
    I am prepared to have a T-shirt and/or sign and take this to the streets. The shirt would say:
    “Please remember to add -ly.”, or maybe: “Hi, my name is LY.”
    Again, thank you so much for this post!

    Greg Shea (Lake Cowichan)

    P.S. I find it slight(ly) encouraging to see such a discussion on a TechnoGeek website!

    • Hi Greg! I heartiLY thank you for your comment! Yes, this is a techno-geek site of sorts, but I’m a firm believer that writing clearLY, correctLY, conciseLY, and cogentLY should be required of everyone, not just professional writers. This -ly part is the sort of thing we’re taught in elementary school, and it’s so easy to understand, so I don’t understand why it’s happening.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      –TechCommGeekMom

      • energuy says:

        You are so welcome. I am fighting this and often feel so alone! It is great to have allies.

        Here is a good one. The CBC has a Saturday show in the afternoon called “Definitely Not The Opera (DNTO)”. The host, Sook-Yin Lee has (almost) the perfect name for this cause. Over a year ago she interviewed a fellow, in New York I think, about his ability to speak very fastly (sic). She actually said this: “I love the way you speak quick.” I should have challenged her with a letter!
        I hold the CBC, as Americans probably hold the NPR, to a much higher standard that the other
        MSM.
        Maybe her show should be: “Definite Not The Opera”.

        P.S. I would laugh if this wasn’t so sad. Hey, are you old enough to remember Tom Swifties?
        http://www.fun-with-words.com/tom_swifties.html
        My career was in education – 35 years as a science and chemistry teacher.
        I would have made an awful English teacher. As it was, I did not let my students
        get away with any misuses of the language. (I wonder why my own Science 10 teacher
        failed English 100 3 times!)

        Cheers,
        Greg

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