Adverbs seem unnecessary, even redundant, to many editors. They suggest replacing an adverb with a stronger, more specific verb. I disagree.

Here is a sentence from C. S. Lewis's "Problem of Pain":

We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms.

In that sentence, the word merely has substance behind it, and the word stresses in that context how humans cannot be reduced to just one trait. In other words, in my opinion there is not a stronger verb which can replace the word merely.

My questions are two:

  • Should I, generally speaking, replace adverbs?

  • If so, how?

closed as too broad by Edwin Ashworth, Dan Bron, choster, Hellion, Jacinto Mar 13 '17 at 19:58

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  • Allow me to suggest that if you're taking C S Lewis seriously, then you have a lot bigger problem than adverbs. That said, I think you have conjured a problem that doesn't really exist. Adverbs modify, i.e., set limits, on adjectives and verbs. If you propose that adverbs are unnecessary, than the same must be said for limiting adjectives, which modify nouns. Lewis could have written, "We are mere creatures of imperfection...." Are you proposing replacing adjectives too? Don't look to replace adverbs. Instead, use them wisely. – deadrat Mar 11 '17 at 6:45
  • Since Lewis is setting up a contrast some word such as merely, only, just seems appropriate here. If the author were simply making a statement, such as in We are merely imperfect creatures who must be improved, then many writers/editors might question the necessity of merely there. Note also that merely, like very, is on some people's short list of words to avoid using. And by the way, you can search the Internet for how can I properly replace adverbs? and get plenty of applicable returns... – AmE speaker Mar 11 '17 at 15:29
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    In its present form, I think this would be better migrated to Writing. – Dan Bron Mar 11 '17 at 16:34
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    No writer, good or bad, has done without adverbs, except possibly as a party trick, like writing without "e"s. Just check any text you like of appreciable length by an author you admire. So anyone who says "adverbs are unneccessary" is either lying or ignorant, and giving advice that will hobble your writing if you take it seriously. The honest, informed version of the advice you've heard would be "don't overuse adverbs," which is a tautology and therefore not very helpful. Conclusion: it's difficult to write well, and there aren't any simple rules you can apply mechanically to accomplish it. – sumelic Mar 11 '17 at 21:37