WoW: The Ups and Downs of Adverbs

Welcome to Wordsmithing on Wednesdays, when I share a tip from my days as an editor.

Adverbs. Avoid them, we’re told.

When you think of adverbs, which ones come to mind? For many of us, it’s those ending in -ly.

Another group of adverbs sneaks into my work. These are prepositions taking the role of an adverb. A fancy description is adverb or adverbial particles.

Examples of adverbial particles are: above, about, in, out, up, down, before, across, off, on, below, and behind. What transforms these words from preposition to adverb is the lack of a noun serving as the object of the preposition.

The two adverbial particles that find their way into my writing most often are up and down. Here are examples:

She stood up.

He knelt down.

While there is nothing wrong with either of these sentences, I could do without up and down and still convey the full meaning of the verb without the use of a modifying adverb.

She stood

He knelt.

The reason I can delete the adverbial particle up in the first example is that when a reader hears that someone stood, she assumes the character stood up because one wouldn’t say a character stood down.

The reason I can delete the adverbial particle down in the second example is that when I rears hears that someone knelt, she assumes the character knelt down because one wouldn’t say a character knelt up.

Using up and down as I did in the examples isn’t incorrect, but since I tend to produce words aplenty, I look for places where I can put my prose on a diet in order to tighten my writing. Eliminating unnecessary adverbial particles is one way I can reduce my word count.

Being a writer, at least a wordy one like me, does have its ups and downs at times. But now, you’ll be able to have a few less words in your stories if you choose to use this tip.

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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9 Responses to WoW: The Ups and Downs of Adverbs

  1. Squid Ink. says:

    Wow, great tip! I just posted a massively long story about meeting French Legion soldiers on a train, and there was a lot of standing up and sitting down that probably didn’t need to be there. Thank you!

  2. Great tip! Those “extra” words can make a manuscript less than professional. Thanks!

  3. Hi Keli,
    I love this grammar stuff–it makes my little heart go pitter-patter! You described the adverbial particle issue perfectly–many people have no idea what I’m talking about when I suggest removing words like this, so I thank you for the reminder and the great way to explain. I’m keeping a notebook of all your wonderful tips!

  4. I love this post. It points to one of the most unconscious “mistakes” we make.

    I call them “directional” … and since I’ve learned to get them out … the sentences are cleaner.

    This is a wonderful idea for you to share your experiences as an editor. It can help us avoid some of the pit-falls of the amature writer.

    To add to Lizbeth, not only keep a record of the tips you are giving us, but remember what we learn about ourselves as we develop this craft.

    I bought a chub book and use it to write down the words and phrases I repeat and when I am doing my edit, I use word find to search and destroy.

  5. Nice post. I’m really trying to pay more attention to the words I’m putting on the page and if they’re making the most of the space. This is a great reminder and something I don’t always think about. Thanks!

  6. Anne Barton says:

    Hi Keli! I just used your tip in my WIP.

    I typed “She climbed up onto the bed” then realized I didn’t need “up.”

    Thanks! 🙂

  7. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great tip! Every word counts, goodness knows!

  8. Steve says:

    I’m hooked.

    More More! I hunger! Cravings for word-smithing techniques.

    Bookmarked!

    Must search for more!!!

  9. Susan Mason says:

    Thanks, Keli. Didn’t know there was such a technical term for this. And yes, I’m guilty of this as well.

    Cheers,
    Sue

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