How To Use Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs, let’s look at them and determine what they are and if we really need them.

From the Oxford Dictionary:



  • a word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, expressing manner, place, time, or degree (e.g.gentlyherenowvery). Some adverbs, for example sentence adverbs, can also be used to modify whole sentences.


late Middle English: from Latin adverbium, from ad- ‘to’ (expressing addition) + verbum ‘word, verb’

And let’s also look at Adjectives, the words we need to set the scene.

Again from the Oxford Dictionary:



  • a word naming an attribute of a noun, such as sweetred, or technical.

Let’s start with looking at the real troublemakers among the adverbs,  those that answer the question how.


Generally speaking, if a word answers the question how, it is an adverb. If it can have an -ly added to it, place it there. But do you, as an author, really want to use the adverb when you can describe a scene instead? Isn’t using the adverb the easy way out?

Ask yourself this, “If I use an adverb for every ‘how’, would my story not be filled with -ly words?” The answer is yes. The next question, “Should you use a description/show for every ‘how’ instead of using an adverb?” The answer is no. You must find the right moment to use an adverb and the right moment to set the scene, because some ‘how’ moments require a show while others can do with an adverb. And that’s when your craft/writing skill is needed, because it all depends on how well you have already established the character’s traits and mannerisms to be able to use an adverb for example or if you are still building your character. Or still are setting a scene. An adverb is often an easy way out for those who forget they can use more words to show.


He quickly walked past her nervously rubbing his palms on his trousers.


He walked–almost ran–past her, eyes cast down, rubbing his sweaty palms on his trousers.

In the first sentence there are two adverbs which could have easily been left out to create a more descriptive sentence to present the reader with more of a picture. i.e. you show instead of tell in the second sentence.

His sweaty (adjective to show he is nervous and eliminating the need for that adverb) palms show what you told the readers in the first example.

So where an adverb can cripple your story the adjectives can give it colour and flavour, if used in moderation.

minion What

Which leads us to adjectives and when to use them, or how much of them we need.

The first thing we need to know is if that detail which is revealed by the adjective is really necessary for the reader to know now or later on in the story.


The woman had dark brown, big, almond-shaped eyes.

Do we need to know her eyes are big, or almond-shaped? Does the colour matter? Or is it all just filler?

Another one:

The blood red, frayed velvet curtains framing the stained windows didn’t block out all the light, but still the room darkened enough when I closed them to lure the creature out of the closet.

The adjectives used here show us the house we are in is in kind of a decrepit state.

Ergo, adjectives are very useful, if used when they are needed and not just to add more words to your story. Remember, it is always better to show than tell.


But then again, there are writers who have a flowery, over-descriptive style and get away with it, because they write such great stories we gobble up everything they have ever written.

Mary Poppins baffled

Who do you think writes stories with an abundance of adjectives and gets away with it? And how do you feel about the use of adverbs?

If you want to discover more about the rules concerning adverbs click here and read up on the matter.


15 thoughts on “How To Use Adverbs and Adjectives

    • Keep at it and steer them toward reading articles about it, and have them really reading good books. They’ll see there is a time and place for those words and that they should be aware of when to use them and when not.

  1. Pingback: In Case You Missed it Monday | Atty's Attic

  2. I enjoyed your article! Not only was it full of great information (we all need a kick in the pants sometimes), I found myself smiling at your added gifs! It was a lot of fun to read and I appreciated the examples you provided. Keep it up!

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