Word & Grammar: Adjectives & Adverbs

The Beautiful Adjective

People like to rag on adjectives, but in my humble opinion adjectives and adjectival phrases are hands down the most important part of the sentence. Adjectives paint the image, working along side concrete nouns and strong verbs, giving the sentence flow and substance, helping you improve your writing step by step.

Let’s go back to our shoebox example. This is the pivotal scene where our young protagonist finds her grandmother’s shoebox in the attic.

The shoebox was old, crumpled in a dark and dusty corner, its scrolling floral exterior cracked and faded, its top covered in the tiny, crisscrossed paw prints of a mouse that made its home there.

Okay, now you see the shoebox—exactly as I’ve envisioned it (or near enough to it).

Adjectives give us the warm sheen of copper pots, the velvet brush of a rose petal, springtime scent of grass being cut next door. 

Wilde used them, Twain used them, even the king of terse, Hemingway, used them. We can’t do without adjective and modifiers. 

The Lovely Adverb

Yes, the literati like to rag on adjectives, but they save their burning hatred for adverbs. I don’t know what the poor adverb has done to these people. I guess they just don’t like their verbs modified. *Shrugs*

If you pick a strong verb, you shouldn’t have to modify many of them (the same goes for adjectives and concrete nouns), but, despite calls to kill’ em all, adverbs have survived the evolution of the English language…and for good reason.

Adverbs are sentence softeners, they do for words what fabric softeners do for clothes; think Bounce commercials with yards of sheets on a clothesline in the breeze. Adverbs are great, as long as you know that’s what they do. If you were going for hard talk, I’d leave them out.


He opened the door forcefully. This forceful sentences sounds, well…a bit forced. This is probably the construction that started all the adverb hate in the first place. In this case a stronger verb is probably better.

He forced the door open.  I do like this better. It’s commanding, exactly like our hard-boiled door forcer.

The bird lighted softly on the grass. I like the picture this conjures better than “The bird lighted on the grass.” The softly does exactly what it is meant to do.

* Final Note
Writing is like magic. The audience doesn’t want to see the effort, the cogs and levers that make up our craft. Psychologists have found that people admire those deemed "natural talents" more than those who work hard. Let readers call it magic, natural talent, artistry, but you and I will know the work you put into it. And you have to do the work.