Why Adjectives & Adverbs Are Dangerous for Journalists

I have been writing poetry and nonfiction for over half of my life. I have spent many hours discussing the use of adjectives and adverbs with fellow writers. Recently, I fought for the removal of bad adverbs and adjectives added by an inexperienced editor.

This treatise is to warn editors and writers to “keep out” of adjective and adverb hell.

Adjectives and adverbs are dangerous words. In a poetry workshop, a well-known editor called them “poison.”

“When you catch an adjective, kill it,” said Mark Twain.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” said Stephen King.

Notice that both words begin with “ad”. “Ad” is the root of “add”. They add additional information. “Ad” words take away from the prime function of journalism. They are open to interpretation. They create problems. They make sentences longer, more complicated, more difficult to read on a phone or a tablet. They show opinions

The job of journalists is to tell the story and keep our opinions out of it.

Are Adjectives Sick?

While I was standing waiting for test drives at the ACT Expo. A  hipster called one of the big rig trucks “sick”.

If I were to write about the truck as “sick” – – depending on the publication it would be considered unprofessional. It would also be confusing to medical professionals who understand “sick” as a word that means “illness.”

Should Journalists, Interestingly, Use Adverbs?

Adverbs are also problematic. For instance, the use of “interestingly.” The definition of “interestingly” is “used to introduce a piece of information that a speaker thinks is strange or interesting.”



It implies that the speaker finds information more interesting. I personally find everything I write about interesting. Journalists don’t need to  confuse the reader with an opinion or a word that is difficult to read and interpret.

The original sentence was similar to this:

The Ford Mustang Mach-e competes with the Volkswagen ID.4, Chevy Bolt EUV and Hyundai Kona or IONIQ5, says Jones.

This is quick read of nineteen words and gets to the information everyone wants to know.

The neophyte editor changed it to:

According to Jones, the Ford Mustang Mach-e is competing with Volkswagen’s ID.4, the Chevy Bolt EUV and interestingly, both the Hyundai Kona CUV and IONIQ5 Mid-Size CUV.

These 26 words add a wrong adverb, unnecessary information and inaccurate tense.

The adverb “interestingly,” according to its definition introduces information that the speaker finds interesting. The speaker in this case is Mr. Jones did not not say the other vehicles are more interesting than the others. It’s throwing in an opinion.

Making Volkswagen possessive is unwarranted. Most people and publications call the model the Volkswagen ID.4. It’s not Chevy’s Bolt. Adding “both the” and the types of Hyundai vehicles is more confusing  and uninteresting.

The Hyundai Kona and IONIQ5 are both CUVs. Automotive brands use the terms CUV and SUV with different meanings. Some reviewers say the Mach-e is an SUV and others say it is not. If I’m buying the car I just want to know similar models.

The longer sentence makes reading and holding of the new information for the reader more difficult. The most important information should come first–the competing models, then who said it.

What Tense is the Simple Best Present Tense? Does the Continuous Present Tense Make Sense?

The phrase “is competing” uses the present continuous tense which means that the competing is happening now and not in the future. In the original sentence “competes” is present simple tense.

After watching a seventeen minute video on the subject, this is the best example to explain the difference between simple present tense and continuous present tense.

Harry makes bread at the bakery. (This simple present tense is for a non-definite period of time–it implies that making bread is Harry’s job. He will be making bread in the future.)

Harry is making bread at the bakery. (This implies that the bread making is happening now.)

The verb that is correct is the original verb “competes” the Mustang Mach-e will continue to compete with the other models into the future.

Resources for “present continuous tense.”

Before adding any adjective or adverb or changing the verb tense ask yourself does it make the sentence:

  1. Cleaner?
  2. Easier to read?
  3. Better?
  4. More accurate/correct?
  5. More concise?
  6. Improved?
  7. Funnier?

If the word does not do 1-7- then “When in doubt-cut it out.” “Be alert don’t insert!”

Don’t Leave It to AI

Don’t check the overuse of adjectives and adverbs with online grammar or re-writers. They can’t interpret additive dangers.

AI algorithms can’t write well. I uploaded an earlier version of this article into an AI “re-writer” this is  how it converted this article:

“organization to be, with no one person having too much control over decisions or direction”

“Too much” is a dangerous adjective–But it could be used properly to write, “The AI re-writer used too much AI.”


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