Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Argument Against Adverbs

Outcropping at Salthills Geographical park in Clithereoe, Lancashire U.K.

The Argument Against Adverbs
Struggling to write simply?
If you’re looking for a reason to reduce unnecessary words,
look no further than this Wall Street Journal article on the use of adverbs in the legal profession.

Many a major court case has hinged on inferring the meaning of an unnecessary adverb.
An adverb, by definition, is used to modify an adjective or verb to denote place, time,
purpose, or degree of.
The argument against this part of speech is that it’s often used to make up for a writer’s poor choice of a verb or adjective. Instead of choosing a stronger action word to describe a series of events,
or a deeper descriptor to help a reader visualize an object,
the adverb is brought in as a weak form of language enhancement.
Adverbs include words such as deliberately, hastily, sometimes, and abroad.
These words are vague and open to reader interpretation.
In the legal system, this ambiguity is seen as a positive.
The adverb can serve as a focal point for determining whether a person is guilty or innocent.
The degree to which an action is taken, for instance, is easily debated.
The Wall Street Journal uses a 2009 Supreme Court case, Flores-Figueroa v. United States,
as an example. In this case, a Mexican citizen was arrested for obtaining U.S. employment
by using counterfeit Social Security and alien registration cards.
After his arrest, he petitioned the government. The statute defining his time for the crime stated, “Whoever…knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority,
a means of identification of another person shall…be sentenced to a term of imprisonment
of two years." He argued the government had to prove he knew the IDs were fake
for it to charge him on the word “knowingly.” The court agreed.
Now imagine if the word “knowingly” were up for discussion every time it appeared in print.
Adverbs are often construed differently depending on the reader. A writer providing evidence
to support a specific conclusion is better off using descriptive, but exact, language to emphasize
an opinion. Adverbs, and other parts of speech that do not add value to a sentence,
leave ideas open to misinterpretation.
In the scientific field, showing a relationship between individual ideas and/or support
for a specific conclusion are important. A hypothesis otherwise sufficiently proven
might be considered improperly supported if the word “knowingly” came into play.
Asking a reader if she “knowingly” completed a task for example, is much harder to prove
than just asking if the task were completed, because “knowingly” is based on
someone’s personal experiences. Therefore, the use of stronger verbs and adjectives
are encouraged above the use of words that do not add value to the goal of each sentence.

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  1. In the book title above, I would guess that the noun "success" is subject to interpretation, perspective and experience of the reader. Not only can adverbs be subjective, but a skillful writer can avoid these simple pitfalls.I don't care if a writer uses adjectives, adverbs or pot luck to express himself, I am satisfied when s/he is sufficiently succinct to communicate to me what was on his mind when he constructed the sentence.While you may deconstruct all of Shakespeare's work and parse to your heart's content, I doubt that you can ever know what was really on his mind at any given time.

    1. Hi, I agree with you, as an English person I find adverbs to be useful however American is really a different language. Ah, the subtle nuances of the mind.


Your opinions, experience and questions are welcome. M'reen