AAdverbs

LEO FRANCIS HOYE

Adverbs often get a bad press. No other part of speech incites such vitriol. In his skit on the vagaries of English grammar and the uses of adverbs in particular, Mark Twain writes: “I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference” (Twain, 1880, p. 850). Twain is not alone in excoriating this hapless part of speech. Stephen King wades in with

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs . . . they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. (King, 2000, p. 95)

The novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard caps this with his injunction: “If an adverb became a character in one of my books, I'd have it shot. Immediately” (D'Agostino, 2009, p. 86). Henry James is among the few to protest their worth: “I'm glad you like adverbs—I adore them; they are the only qualifications I really much respect” (James, 1920, pp. 214–15). Although largely optional, if used purposefully, adverbs can add meaning to other clause elements, such as adjectives, other adverbs, nouns, verbs, even entire clauses. Ending an interview with the wife of a suspect, a detective enjoins: “‘Perhaps you would notify us, if he returns?’ ‘Oh definitely, surely, absolutely ...

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