Kill the “ly” Words

I hate adjectives and adverbs.  Those are the words that come before or after a verb and end in the letters “ly.”  Example:  “I literally cringed embarrassingly.”  Better:  “I cringed.”  What makes me absolutely and positively cringe uncontrollably is the overly excessive use of adjectives and adverbs wantonly.  It’s totally, irrevocably, and mind-numbingly bad writing. Or, it’s awful.

Why?  Words that end in “ly” rob the verb — and the language overall — of its power, it’s zest, it’s energy.  Lots of adjectives and adverbs make the reader yawn and then go away.  A verb’s mission is to convey action, which helps keep the reader engaged.  But each “ly” word weighs down the verb and the sentence.  Too many and the language flops — and your reader stops. And there goes your opportunity to engage, explain, interest, persuade, or motivate.

In an earlier post I recommended the book “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.  Here’s something he wrote about “ly” words:

“Totally flabbergasted,” “effortlessly easy,” “slightly spartan.”  The beauty of “flabbergasted” is that it implies an astonishment that is total; I can’t picture anyone being partly flabbergasted.  If an action is so easy as to be effortless, use “effortless.”  And what is “slightly spartan”?  Perhaps a monk’s cell with wall-to-wall carpeting.”

So, after writing your first draft hunt down and destroy all the “ly” words you can.  Your second draft will gather power to pull and please your readers.

About 1956waterkey

Senior public relations/communication professional. Areas of focus are strategic communication planning and written communication products (messaging, talking points, speeches, annual reports, white papers, issue advocacy, etc.). Avid reader. Deep into classical and jazz music. Trombone player.
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