Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here.
Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, got some adverbs here.
Come on down to Lolly's, get the adverbs here!

I’ll admit I’ve used it in the classroom more than a few times although I don’t know how much good Schoolhouse Rock really does to teach teenagers anything about the parts of speech.

Don’t know what I’m talking about when I refer to Schoolhouse Rock? Try this on for size and then let’s talk a bit more about how to use adverbs in your writing.

Schoolhouse Rock on Youtube

For those of you out there working on improving your English, adverbs are a tricky thing – they describe verbs, or tell HOW, WHEN and TO WHAT DEGREE you’re doing something. I usually identify them as the words that end in “–ly” although that is by no means a universal definition. It’s just an easy way to remember what they are.

Adverbs do lots of things, but rather than focus on the exact definition and all of their jobs since Schoolhouse Rock just laid all that out there for you, let’s look at some common misuses of adverbs and how you can work to improve your own sentences by using adverbs correctly.

Adverbs to Carefully Slaughter

Adverbs are great because they let us be vague in our writing – very good for boosting word counts! (/sarcasm.) He spoke quickly. Suddenly, I walked very slowly. So what? Adverbs are overused in writing because we overuse them in our spoken conversations. Here are a few adverbs you can just leave of most written pieces (with an exception for blogs or pieces that are written the same way that we speak for an ultracasual approach.)

Very – very what? It’s not precise and is used so much that it doesn’t have real meaning for us anymore. Leave it out.

Not – I use" not" in many of my pieces, but some writers try hard to not use "not" because they are using prefixes instead. e.g. The vase is not repairable. The vase is irreparable.  It’s definitely a good grammar and vocabulary practice to see how well you can avoid it.

Never and Always – Very little in life is absolute, so unless you’re talking about literal life and death situations, you might just avoid these.

Adverbs That Are Often Misused

Outside of the very, very, very bad use of very, there are other ways you can abuse adverbs. I notice it frequent when people leave off the “-ly” that should be attached to the ends of the word. (Did you catch that clever example in the last sentence?)

My favorite abused adverb is “bad.” Actually, “bad” is not an adverb – “badly” is an adverb. “Bad” is an adjective. I hear this sort of thing every day:

I did bad on that test.

Ouch! That hurt me bad!

Wow, I really did that pirouette bad!

Okay, maybe the last one is a stretch – nobody in my life is trying out ballet moves on a daily basis, but you do hear this sort of sentence and see it written often. It’s written bad. (giggle) Yup, it’s really written bad-LY! Even then “badly” isn’t that great of a word. “Poorly” is a much better choice if you’re trying to sound like you know more than a typical teenager who hates learning the parts of speech.

I did poorly on that test.

Ouch! That hurt me badly!

Wow, I really did that pirouette poorly!

The Adverb Challenge

Adverbs are casual and often lazy writing. So rather than stress over how to improve your adverb use, why not take them out of your work all together? By removing the “very”, “suddenly”, “fortunately”, “quickly” and other fluffy adverbs from your sentences, you’ll be able to write more concisely…er...write with great clarity and conciseness….which will make your work tight and polished.

The next time you write an article or website copy, run your ‘Find/Replace’ and see how many incidents of “ly” you have in your work. Make it a point to rewrite those sentences to remove the adverbs all together. It is definitely a challenge –* grimace* – It is a challenge, but it will improve your work, and to be honest, I’m taking on this challenge myself in hopes of continuous improvement of my own.

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

6 thoughts on “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!”

  1. This is weird, but just about an hour before I read your post I was humming the tune from “Conjunction Junction” (something I haven’t thought about for years). As a young person, I didn’t really understand that the cartoon was about grammar, but it sure had a catchy tune.

  2. I just did your find/replace exercise on a post I published today. Several adverbs were revealed! Since it’s already published, I’m okay with them — none made me groan. This is a good exercise to accompany a final spell check, and will give me the opportunity to clean up my writing. Thanks!

  3. I think I’ll have to drop my love for those ‘ly’s’ and stick to words that count. Sometimes, writers can forget that readers don’t have more than 4 minutes to read through all that adverb trash. Your advice makes sense and as much as using adverbs is like eating a bar of chocolate, I think I’ll have to resist temptation for good.

  4. Ha ha, I loved Schoolhouse Rock as a child! It even helped me with a history test back in middle school, because I had memorized the entire United States Constitution from one of the songs in the series. As a child, I adored that song.. so already had it memorized when the teacher announced the test. I didn’t need to study and aced it without a problem.

    I don’t remember if the grammar portions of Schoolhouse Rock helped me much though.


  5. You used “of” where, I believe, you meant to use ‘off.’ It’s a forgivable typo that I make all the time, to. 🙂

  6. I pirouetted poorly! (The use of “really” & “did” are like the overuse/misuse of “very” or “like”).

    Imagine saying a did a run poorly! (“did” a run?)

    I ran poorly!


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