Let’s count adverbs!

This post about this book (which I need to buy) is great.  Number of  -ly adverbs per 100,000 words:

Hemingway: 80

Twain: 81

Melville: 126

Austen: 128

J.K. Rowling: 140

E L James: 155

One might easily imagine that the writer of the “Fifty Shades” novels would use almost twice as many adverbs as Hemingway, but it’s nice to see some data.

The case against adverbs is pretty clear: they are often a flabby substitute for more succinct prose.  “Hurry” is punchier than “walk quickly”.  And lots of adverbs might indicate that the writer hasn’t done a lot of revising and tightening:

The Hemingway book with the highest usage rate for -ly adverbs, True at First Light, was released only after his death and is considered one of his worst works.  The same pattern is true for Faulkner and Steinbeck, namely that the most highly praised works have relatively low rates of -ly adverb usage.  Among other notable authors surveyed, D.H. Lawrence seems to be the most obvious exception to this regularity.

I often find myself editing out adverbs that I couldn’t seem to avoid in my first draft.

While I’m sort of on the subject, I enjoyed the rather strange novel Adverbs by Daniel Handler (who was much more successful with his Lemony Snicket novels).

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4 thoughts on “Let’s count adverbs!

  1. I’ve been rereading Iceman. Here are the stage directions from a random page. (Bitterly) (…he adds confusedly) (To Parritt ramblingly) (uncomfortably) (blinks at him incredulously).

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