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Writing Advice

​​​Arthur  Plotnik, Author

Watch this page for both new and newly updated offerings on the art and craft of writing, drawn from my disgraceful number of years as a journalist, columnist, literary author, writer on writing, editor, and publishing exec.  



​​​​​​Adverbs as Grade-A Intensifiers

"Kill all your adverbs!" many a writing teacher has warned, arguing that modifiers of modifiers are more than any crafted expression can bear.  Writers become so wary of adverbs and adverbial intensifiers they develop mental firewalls to keep them out.

      I've done such cautioning myself, suggesting that commonplace adverbs (e.g., really, totally, completely) do little intensifying of most adjectives. Totally doesn't make huge one micron bigger. I've advised that it is better to seek a bold, go-it-alone adjective (cathedralesque living room,  tyrannosaurian cockroach) with no need  for intensification.

      But even forceful adjectives don't always reveal the distinguishing manner and degree of a certain quality. That's the job of grade-A, intensifying adverbs, which can do it concisely, forcefully, and often with precision. They can also be witty and playful, giving delight as well as emphasis.

       The adjective stupid, for example, may be attention-getting in itself. But how can we make, say, one "stupid regulation" stand out from all other stupid regulations? How can we intensify the stupidity?

       Here, I would look for adverbs of such force that they can smash through the firewall, dock with their adjectives and blast them into orbit. Among those that would make the grade are:

  • adverbs triggering forceful images and associations (concussively stupid, barbarously stupid);

  • adverbs suggesting consequences (catastrophically stupid, there-will-be-blood stupid);

  • ironically paradoxical adverbs (radiantly stupid, sublimely stupid).  

  • Should one-word adverbs not cut it, I would go the arsenal of compounded terms, especially those indicating emotional effect (heart-chafingly stupid, soul-smitingly stupid) or brute power (cold-cockingly stupid, weapons-grade stupid ).  I would, of course, employ supercharged adverbs sparingly. One goes a long way.

       Bottom line: As writer-actor Ron White  once said, "You can't fix stupid." But with grade-A intensifiers, you can make stupid and just about anything else the king of its class.

Adapted from The Elements of Expression, rev. & expanded, by Arthur Plotnik, Viva Editions, 2012.  Some 5,000 powerful intensifiers including both adjectives and adverbs arranged in categories can be found in myBetter Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Walloping Fresh Superlatives, Viva Editions, 2011.