Don’t Omit Necessary Adverbs

Rapidsoft Press blog: unnecessary adverbs
Here is an ambiguous sentence: “Did you hear that Michael passed?” Umm . . . passed what? An algebra test? The bar exam? A car on the freeway? Without the crucial adverb “on” or “away” the sentence is ambiguous—and bad form in formal writing. There is no misunderstanding the sentence, “Did you hear that Michael passed away?”

There is an unfortunate trend in current spoken English to omit critical
adverbs, leaving the listener to figure out the meaning from the context of the conversation.

Here are a couple more examples of this sort of thing.

“My son is hanging with some of his friends.” In my mind, this conjures up an image of the son and his friends, having been convicted of some dastardly crime, twisting in the wind at the end of long ropes. What the speaker really means is, “My son is hanging out with some of his friends.” Another case of the missing adverb.

One of the worst is writing, “That man is going to cave.” Really? Makes me wonder what cave he’s going to explore. In my dictionary, cave is a verb meaning “to explore caves especially as a sport or hobby.” What the writer actually means is “That man is going to cave in.” Another missing adverb. The guy is going to succumb to pressure and cave in to some kind of demand.

In formal writing, you should avoid the temptation to leave out these critical adverbs. It is certainly permissible to leave them out in fictional dialogue, since people do—sadly—leave out these adverbs frequently in spoken English. But good writers will include such adverbs in their manuscripts.

Rapidsoft Press gratuitous adverbs
One last, ironic, observation. This is the addition of a gratuitous adverb in sentences like, “We decided to continue on.” Ouch! The word continue means “go on.” So tacking the adverb “on” to the word continue is like writing “go on on.” It’s redundant.

The only exception to this rule is in sentences like, “He decided to continue on his journey.” Here the word “on” is attached to “his journey” not to the word continue, so it’s all right to use there. Albeit, one could leave out the word “on” without loss of meaning: “He decided to continue his journey.”

A word of caution: Do not feel constricted by rules in your writing. Rules were meant to be at least occasionally bent, if not actually broken. Sometimes the rhythm or cadence of the words in a sentence or paragraph will call for wording that might otherwise be frowned upon. As a writer, it’s what sounds good to your ear that is important, not that you’ve followed some rule as if caught in some linguistic straightjacket.

My friend who designs this website is fond of the Latin expression, “de gustibus non est disputandum”—roughly, about taste there is no dispute. A good thing to remember.

Typefaces for Titles

Titles want to be noticed. They should be bold. Attention-getters. Here’s good one for starters—it says, “Look at me!” (For each of these I give the name of the typeface followed by a sample title):

trajanpro

But there are many varieties to choose from. Perhaps an outline typeface for a title?

oldstylemt

Or perhaps your book is about something ancient and mysterious. You could use this one:

oldenglish

Or maybe you need a title for a wild western story. You could use this one:


mesquitestd

The sample title is from a real book. You can find it on Amazon.com.

If you need a title that looks modern and full of pizazz, try this one:

broadway

Some of these title typefaces have both upper- and lowercase glyphs (glyph is a fancy typographic word for a character). Others are in all uppercase glyphs, and a few have uppercase and “small caps” that take the place of lowercase glyphs (e.g., Trajan Pro).

Suppose you have a title that needs real impact. Then why not use this one:

impact

Or it may just be that you need an ornate title like this:

copperplategothic


The varieties of headline type are almost as numerous as the designers who invented them. You’re sure to find one that suits you.

How about a touch of “oldness” but still retaining elegance? Like this one:

charlemagne

Here is one that needs a bit of loosening in the spacing to really look right:

felixtilting

Then there is this old choice for an open-face title:

caslon

Of course, on a book cover you would use the typefaces in a much larger font than I’ve shown here. The spacing I used on these is “Normal” for the first three; 140% (very, very loose) for the Mesquite Std.; “Loose” (112.5%) for Broadway and Impact; Normal for Copperplate Gothic Bold and Charlemagne Standard; Loose for Felix Titling; and Normal for Caslon Open Face LT Std.

Avoid Bad Clichés

word choice
Notice I did not write “Avoid Clichés.” Clichés are near universally despised, but they have one thing going for them: When you use one, no one will misunderstand you. And good writing always conveys clear meaning. Using an occasional cliché, especially in dialogue, can be useful.

That said, some clichés are truly awful. You should avoid these whenever possible—and it is always possible to avoid two of the commonest of these accursed expressions.

The first of these is “the fact that.” In his introduction to
The Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White; New York: The Macmillan Co., 1959 and later dates), E. B. White writes:

“[Professor Strunk] devotes a special paragraph to the vile expression ‘the fact that,’ a phrase that causes him to quiver with revulsion. The expression, he says, should be ‘revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.’ . . . I suppose I have written ‘the fact that’ a thousand times in the heat of composition, revised it out maybe five hundred times in the cool aftermath. To be batting only .500 this late in the season, to fail half the time to connect with this fat pitch, saddens me, for it seems a betrayal of the man who showed me how to swing at it and made the swinging seem worthwhile.”

E. B. White should have been ashamed of himself. The fact is (pun intended) that “the fact that” can be eliminated from
any sentence in which you might be tempted to use it.

speechmaking
As a prime example, take the speech John Kasich gave on May 5 about quitting the race for the presidency—in which, by the way, he never said that he was quitting the race. His second sentence was “[T]he first thing I have to do is to thank my great wife, Karen, for the fact that . . . she has endured my political career and also of course accentuated it.” He could just as easily have said, “thank my great wife, Karen, because she has endured my political career. . . .” Or preferably, “thank my great wife, Karen, for enduring my political career and of course accentuating it.” He needs better speech writers.

I have written many thousands of words, few of them in deathless prose, and likely more than a few sentences with grammatical errors of some kind. But not once have I ever used the phrase “the fact that.”

The second of the terrible two is “point in time.” This one apparently entered the language in the late 1960s, and so escaped the scrutiny of Strunk and White. There is no such thing as a “point in time.” Used in this sense, point is a synonym for time.

Take the sentence: “At this point in time we decided to quit.” You can remove either “point in” or “in time” from this sentence without diminishing the meaning in the slightest: “At this point we decided to quit” or “At this time we decided to quit.” In fact, you can remove either “point in” or “in time” from any sentence containing this trite cliché without changing the meaning of the sentence.

I have never used this expression in my writing, either. Which brings up a useless cliché. I first wrote “Needless to say” as an introductory phrase in the first sentence of this paragraph. A friend, acting as a copy editor, pointed out that if something is needless to say, then why say it? In effect, it’s a cliché that negates itself. The kind of thing an author writes without really thinking what it means. I followed his advice and deleted the phrase. A lesson not just for you but for me, too.