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Style Chapter 16: Avoid Adverb Sentences
vandanagoyal wrote in visionindia2047
There is an annoying new trend in Indian writing in English to make prolific use of sentence adverbs which modify a sentence as a whole rather than just the verb.
Curiouslythe minister did not show up till one hour after the conference was scheduled.
Or
Interestinglyno one knew the whereabouts of the the new mother.

These adverbs do nothing for the sentences except making them irritating for the reader. It is best left to the reader to decide if the circumstances are curious or interesting. In an otherwise well researched and written book on Km. Mayawati, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ajoy Bose uses Interestingly in nearly every third paragraph. By the third chapter it only evokes laughter in what is otherwise  a serious and authoritative work.

Adverbs like actually, apparently, basically, certainly, clearly, evidently, fortunately, hopefully, incidentally, ironically, naturally, predictably, presumably, regrettably, strangely, surprisingly, thankfully, truthfully, ultimately, wisely lend themselves very well to making sentence adverbs. They are definitely not incorrect, just a style liability. Hence the need is not to banish them altogether but to look for alternatives.

Reader sees sentence adverbs as blatant attempts by the writers to force him to have the same opinion as them . Instead of advancing convincing arguments and converting the reader gradually, writer nudges him to his point of view telling him that now he should be 'thankful' or 'clear'. It is a crutch used by the writer when his arguments are not powerful enough.Words like 'unquestionably' and 'undeniably' render the writing weak and limp.

Sentence adverbs can serve a sometime useful function as they do have the benefit of compactness. Instead of saying ,'it was now clear that',you can say it more succinctly as 'clearly'. It is good to question the purpose of using the sentence adverb. Is it to express your emotions or is it to arm twist the readers to feel what you want them to feel? 

Sometimes writers try to dodge the criticism associated with adverb by depriving it of 'ly' as in 'More important, we were fed up' or the admonition 'Think different'.

Sentence adverbs can be used in their disembodied form while answering questions to make the reply more emphatic as with 'obviously', 'naturally', 'definitely', 'positively'.

Some adverbs used in adverb sentences are particularly annoying and have come under lot of criticism from writers and readers alike. Here is a compilation of some common ones that go on the rubbish heap.
  •  'Hopefully' is a favourite one that eveyone loves to hate. Besides being too colloquial, it has been called a "slack-jawed, common, sleazy," and a specimen of "popular jargon at its most illiterate level." In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White say , "This once-useful adverb meaning "with hope" has been distorted and is now widely used to mean "I hope" or "it is to be hoped." Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly". The Associated Press Stylebook also advises "Do not use [hopefully] to mean it is hoped, let us or we hope." and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says : "Writers and editors unwilling to irritate readers would be wise to write they hope or with luck." 
  • Ben Yagoda, in If You See an Adjective, Kill It, Broadway Books, 2007 says "The single most abused and annoying sentence adverb is actually. . . . The degeneration of actually is signaled by a Doonesbury cartoon in which a Hollywood mogul, Mr. Kibbitz, instructs his young associate: 'Listen, Jason, if you're going to make it in this town, you have to start using the word "actually." A Hollywood assistant always says, "Actually, he's in a meeting," or "He's actually at lunch." "Actually" means "I'm not lying to you."'
  • "Ironically" mostly gets thrown out of the window because of its incorrect usage . What a writer calls "ironic" is usually just an interesting, an unexpected or an odd development.
  •  Adverbs like 'Arguably' are disliked as they are an attempt to shirk responsibility and unwillingness to take blame.
  •  Some like "Basically" are just too common and thus tiring.


©2008 VisionIndia2047

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