I have been told to avoid adverbs at all costs. What is another way of rewriting:

This feature is not easily extensible.
  • 11
    Who told you this? Was it an adjective salesman?
    – David M
    Feb 25 '14 at 21:01
  • 2
    Whoever told you this presumably did not realize that "at all costs" is an adverbial phrase. Feb 25 '14 at 22:04
  • 1
    Whoever told you that easily was being an adverb in easily extensible was of the 'adverb dustbin' persuasion. I'm not against adverbs, but if you call this usage 'adjective modifier', your problem seems to disappear. Feb 25 '14 at 22:43

Advice like this is about as useful as people giving diet tips.

Take it with a grain of salt.

If you want to avoid the adverb, you would just say "This feature is not extensible." The problem becomes that this changes the meaning to exclude all extensibility. So, that leaves you searching for an adequate substitute which means "easily extensible". This will likely turn up a word from a thesaurus that may or may not be readily understood by most readers.

The idea being that adverbs rarely add anything to the conversation that wouldn't be readily apparent from the primary terms.

I find this notion idiotic. Adverbs and language have evolved to explain nuances. And, if a nuance requires an adverb, then use one.

  • Sorry, but your substitute phrase "This feature is not extensible" is NOT the same as "This feature is not easily extensible". Feb 25 '14 at 21:22
  • @KristinaLopez You're actually correct. I hadn't thought it through. I will edit a bit.
    – David M
    Feb 25 '14 at 21:24
  • I wonder if there is a way to restate that without the adverb or a bunch of additional words? Feb 25 '14 at 21:25
  • @KristinaLopez I've made my point clearer. Let me know what you think.
    – David M
    Feb 25 '14 at 21:25
  • Much better! I reversed my downvote. :-) Feb 25 '14 at 21:26

I share David M's view that blanket hostility toward adverbs is odd and ultimately unjustifiable. The notion that such hostility has at its root a close connection between adverb use and imprecise description doesn't make sense to me either. Consider the OP's original example:

This feature is not easily extensible.

We can reframe that sentence without the adverb as

This feature is difficult to extend.

In the revised sentence, the adjective difficult does the job of the adverbial phrase not easily. But I can't think of any grounds for arguing that the idea as expressed the second time around is any more precise or coherent than as expressed the first time.

Saying that a feature "is not easily extensible" provides more useful detail than saying merely that the feature "is extensible"—or, contrarily, asserting that the feature isn't extensible at all—so I don't see how swearing off adverbs helps make the author's actual meaning clearer. In my view, omitting crucial modifiers promotes simplicity at the cost of doing serious damage to accuracy.

Finally, I note that not is itself an adverb. Presumably, a strict ban on adverbs would require writers to avoid using that exceedingly useful word of negation, again to no useful purpose.

  • 1
    'In some cases, we find that a single word exhibits unique behaviour, behaviour shared by no other word in the language. Such a word is occasionally called a syncategorematic item, meaning ‘belonging to a category of which it is the only member’. The best known such item in English is the negative not, which behaves differently from every other word in the language. Traditional grammarians, as usual with difficult words, called the word an “adverb”, but in fact there is not a single property that not shares with the adverbs – unlike, for example, never , which really is an adverb.' Feb 25 '14 at 23:37
  • ... Reference: Sussex University, POS team Feb 25 '14 at 23:38
  • Thanks, Edwin Ashworth. I should never have called not an adverb. Once again, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has led me astray.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 25 '14 at 23:48
  • I think every dictionary would on this one. They're all way behind modern POS analysis, though the POS specialists can't seem to agree amongst themselves either. Feb 25 '14 at 23:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.