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I came across this infographic which contains the following claim:

dubious infographic

Some grammarians consider "ly" ending adverbs as bad style in formal writing.

Are there any serious style advice sources that actually make this dubious claim? What's the theory for how avoiding such adverbs improves writing?


I've done some further research and found that this notion is widespread, but there is little citation or authority. Where did this idea come from?

For what it's worth, here's a blog entry that claims "Aspiring science-fiction authors receive one piece of advice above all others: Forsake the adverb, the killer of prose. It's terribly, awfully, horrendously important." — Seriously, What’s So Bad About Adverbs?

To make the point about as clear as I can - using "ly" ending adverbs is BAD WRITING for fiction writers. — Those "ly" Ending Adverbs

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I think this is Too Localised. Who are these "some grammarians", and why should we be looking to see if they have any support for their implausible pronouncement? –  FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 22:13
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@Souta: Because nohat is asking us to assess the credibility of what looks to me to be a ludicrous proposition. But I will admit I didn't consciously realise until now that although -ly is a "productive" suffix for creating adverbial forms, it's unusual in that it's not inflectional (you can't do something quicklier, for example). –  FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 22:21
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@nohat: That last link seems to be more a matter of "advice for creative writers", where it's claimed that -ly adverbs are often pointless "padding". Which may well be true, and you could even extend the stricture to more formal contexts, but the implication that all such adverbs are invariably "wrong" is just daft. –  FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 22:26
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"...how avoiding such adverbs improves writing?" -- writersSE. –  Kris Oct 26 '12 at 7:09
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This is a style question. Suggest posing it at Writers.SE. –  MετάEd Oct 26 '12 at 14:18
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5 Answers

The key is "aspiring science-fiction authors." Science fiction was at one time a type of pulp fiction, a genre that relied on fast action with a minimum of description. It's a stylistic rule, not a grammatical one.

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Some cooks hate garlic. That doesn't mean garlic is bad. That in order doesn't mean eating raw garlic before a job interview is a good idea.

The rule of thumb is "do not make up adverbs".

Do use adverbs if they concisely convey a specific quality, better than a more expressive verb would. I asseverate most people prefer an adverb - simple verb pair than an overly fancy and obscure verb containing given quality.

Avoid them when they cheaply replace a descriptive expression or a verb that pinpoints given quality.

Do not use them at all if you avoidantly try to replace whole sentences with them, or redundantly repeat the sense of the verb they describe. You are able to make up adverbs impunitively, or abuse obscurely occurring ones, or arbitrarily give them new meanings, but don't do it. It's bad.

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Seriously, I defy anyone to tell me that using adverbs that end in =ly is really an element of poor style. Anyone who does is undoubtedly a pedant.

Generally speaking, there is a certain school of thought which asserts that verbs and nouns are strong, adjectives are weak, and adverbs weaker still. These are the same people who hold that the passive voice should be avoided, and so on. While there is a germ of truth in some of this, writing that cleaves to one set of prepackaged strictures tends to become boring and predictable.

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-ly does define an adverb, after all.

But, looking at your source matter, I think, from the perspective of selling one's work, that the admonishment has most to do with prospective readers: multi-layered descriptiveness, even when accurate, could tend to tax the attention capability of too many of them. ...in line with neo-modern trends in writing and reading...and even thinking (or, as was more accurately stated, feeling).

Perhaps it would be best desribed as a case of inverted literary license: standards you may feel free not to follow to make your point in writing. Or perhaps it"s just a way to keep editors employed?

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It isn’t at all true that “-ly defines an adverb.” It depends what it is used on — in part. For example, used on a noun, it creates an adjective, like bodily, courtly, friendly, ghostly, lonely, namely, smelly, stately, worldly, plus you have some that go both ways, like hourly, early, only, yearly. Sometimes adding it to an adjective leaves you still with an adjective, like kindly, lively, lonely, madly, sickly, and even some adjectives that are no longer separable, like comely, silly, ugly, unruly. Plus golly, belly, bully, rally, sally, tally aren’t adverbs or adjectives. –  tchrist Oct 28 '12 at 2:30
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Some grammarians consider "ly" ending adverbs as bad style in formal writing.

Grammarians, when discussing style, could certainly suggest what they feel is good. That doesn't set a new rule of grammar.

The -ly adverbs have a purpose of their own and when used carefully, serve well in both general and formal writing.


[Essentially a comment] Beyond this, the question is exclusively in the domain of writing style, not language. (Similar style applied in any other language might have similar implications.)

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