I’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!
22 thoughts on “What have you got against adverbs? What did they ever do to you?”
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.
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!!
Thanks for chiming in! Yes, I agree. It’s up to those of us who recognize the problem to set the example, for sure.
Thanks for visiting!
ditto, I’ve noticed this for the past few years
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!
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
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?
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!)
Blue Cross Blue Shield tells us to “Live Fearless” I want to live fearlessly.
Exactly, Beckie. Exactly.
Great article. I did a search of trends against using adverbs. This was the first relevant search hit that popped up. Confirms my suspicions. English has been reduced to uptalk, vocal fry and adverb-phobia. It is beyond irritating. It makes one want to completely check out of culture altogether.
Thank you, Timothy. I’m the first one to say that language is something that is always fluid and changing. Slang can sometimes turn into expressions that are no longer considered slang. But this definitely isn’t a case of that. I can’t speak about other countries where I’ve heard adverbs dropped in the English language, but in the US, (and not to sound like a snob), but it’s usually people who haven’t paid attention in English class or have not had a good education that speak that way. That has then carried onto the media, such as reality series. Those who are uneducated then become glamorized, and the next thing you know, speaking poorly is considered the norm. Nope. I’m sorry. I don’t accept that. And it’s confusing for others learning English, because then there isn’t an equivalent. It’s really messed up. I appreciate your feedback.
You will hear many prominent people and authority figures use not only improper but flat out bad English. I even notice it in movies, even ones from the 1980s. In the motion picture Aliens (1986), Paul Reiser says “nukular” instead of nuclear. Where was the script supervisor when this seeming error happened? Worse yet, was it deliberate, as part of some dumbing-down agenda like Common Core? This is but one of many such examples.
Seriously…this is killing me. I just read an article on cnet…here’s the link: https://www.cnet.com/news/adios-turbulence-pilots-have-a-new-way-to-outfox-you/
Look at the headings: Flying Smooth. Seriously. Ugh. Smooth is modifying flying, a verb—therefore it requires an ADVERB. Flying Smoothly. There, isn’t that better?
I hear ‘ya, Verne. I cringe every time I hear or read this mistake. I swear it’s getting worse!
Even the BBC news seem to have joined into the poor use of correct language. Shame!!
Languages change, and people like you only further the idea that people who don’t ‘talk correctly’ are unintelligent, it’s racism at it’s finest
I understand your concern about language discerning people as educated versus non-educated, alluding to intelligence levels, but racism? No. White people makes this mistake as much as people of color. This kind of anomaly is not unique to English. Other languages have modifiers that act as adverbs, and to use an adjective instead of the proper adverb has the same effect–it sounds wrong. Before I wrote this article years ago, I consulted my husband, whose first language is not English, and he also speaks another language as well that’s not like his native language. He said in both those instances, he said native speakers would look down on you for not speaking properly. So this is not unique to English. Language evolves, but not like this in only 10 years or so. If people have been using adverbs to be more succinct in expressing themselves for centuries successfully, what’s to say that not being corrected is positive change? And who says that English is standard? There are variations around the world in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The appropriate use of adverbs is standard in all variations of English, or most other languages. Do some more research on standardized English, and you’ll find that this is not racist at all, but rather necessary as we become more globalized, and communications need to be as crystal clear as possible, especially in medicine, technology, engineering, and other sciences, as well as finance or even in diplomacy. The use of appropriate and proper language skills knows no race, creed, or religion, and fosters better and clearer communication between peoples. You need to do some more studying of linguistics, localization, and globalization used in communications.
I’ve been going on about this for at least as long as your post has lived. I just read “works perfect” in a review. Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh
I hear you. It makes me crazy, and it’s sad that it’s not going away!
As the child of an English professor whose specialty was Business Letter Writing, I am horrified at this incorrect use – or probably lack of use – of adverbs. My father didn’t hesitate to correct my brother and me when we made grammar mistakes in both speaking and writing. Moreover, I had an 11th grade English teacher who emphasized correct grammar for the entire year. But I am astonished at the poor grammar of not just ordinary citizens, but also television personnel, too. Is the problem that the teachers are so interested in the creative writing of their students that they tend to ignore the grammar mistakes in their students’ papers? My middle daughter, who finished at a private college for women students only, had to score an eighty on a grammar test before she could advance out of her introductory English course. Since she hadn’t been taught much grammar in her earlier education, she had to attend study sessions throughout the semester in order to score high enough on the test to pass, She did manage to go from one of the lowest grades on the first test to the highest grade in the class on the second test. My oldest daughter didn’t learn what an infinitive was until she took Spanish in high school. What is happening to the education of our students with respect to learning to speak and write correctly in our native language?