- On October 22, 2014
The Supreme Court justices are bickering, but not about same-sex marriage, Obamacare, or voter identification. No, according to a Wall Street Journal story, they’re disagreeing about adverbs. Justice Scalia uses them; Associate Justice Kennedy does not. Kennedy sides with novelist Stephen King who says, “The adverb is not your friend.”
Ouch. Sometimes, an adverb can be good company. Consider these sentences, which wouldn’t mean what they do without their adverbs.
• Working independently, the three scientists developed a set of imaging techniques that have transformed the fundamental study of disease and basic biology.
• What was found adds to a growing body of evidence that male and female doctors are paid differently and may practice medicine differently.
• Tory Burch has deftly marketed her own brand of affordable luxury sportswear to become a billion-dollar-a-year fashion empire.
And remember these ads? The adverbs made the message.
• “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” (Federal Express)
• “Indescribably delicious.”(Mounds)
• “We try harder.” (Avis)
But King has a point. Adverbs like truly, literally, and totally have virtually no place in business writing. It’s tempting to lean on them for emphasis, but they do nothing but weaken what we’re saying—and can even hamper our credibility. When you see them, delete them. (Scratch uniquely too; it’s not true 99 percent of the time.)
And who needs adverbs when you can rely on strong verbs like the ones in these sentences and headlines?
• Banana Joe, a plucky back pooch prized for his monkeylike mien, walked into the Westminster Kennel Club dog show as an underdog and strutted out top dog.
• The Cheney feud is the most stomach-turning, with Liz Cheney grubbing for a Senate seat as a carpetbagger against an incumbent Republican.
• Money and Ritalin fueled his childhood.
• Mr. Perelman has built a collection of prized works that have soared in value over the past decade.
• Stocks Swoon in Frenzied Day
• Bargain Hunters Pounce on Panic