Cut All The Adjectives & Adverbs. Why It’s Nonsense, And When It Isn’t

Emma Darwin

“Cut All The Adjectives & Adverbs”. Why It’s Nonsense, And When It Isn’t

Cut all the adjectives & adverbs” is right up there with “Show, don’t Tell”, as one of the first “rules” that new writers get told, and for similar reasons. And although it’s perhaps responsible for more bland, threadbare writing than almost any other phenomenon except the ghost of Hemingway, it’s not entirely nonsense either, any more than Hemingway is.

The truth is, writing would be impossible if we couldn’t use adjectives, adverbs and adverbial and adjectival phrases. But although you’ll never get me to say that you “should” cut them, there is a whiff of good writerly sense somewhere at the root of it. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to take a long, hard look at the adjectives of quality and adverbs of manner in your drafts, and seeing if the effect they’re trying for would be better achieved another way.

Let’s start with the basics, for which I must thank David Crystal’s entirely brilliant books Rediscover Grammar, which is about how language works, and Making Sense of Grammar, about how to use how it works to your advantage. Whether you’re old enough to have had the old grammar beaten into you, the generation (like me) who learnt little grammar except, unhelpfully, via foreign or ancient languages, or the younger generation who are gaining (or suffering) from the pendulum swinging the other way again but with a new vocabulary of terms, I can’t recommend Crystal’s books highly enough.

AN ADJECTIVE is a word which changes or adds to the meaning of a noun: red, hopeless, French, happier, contemplative, fancy, your, which, quick, sad See More . . . 



Scroll to Top