Adjectives and Adverbs

Keeping on my “parts of speech” kick, today’s post will cover another part of speech that is commonly misused–adverbs. Unlike pronouns which replace nouns, adverbs are modifying words more akin to adjectives. As both adjectives and adverbs modify words, however, their largest problem is being confused with one another.

As a refresher:

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. The short boy with brown hair, for example. Short and brown are both adjectives, modifying the nouns “boy” and “hair” respectively.

Adverbs are words that modify verbs. The short boy bounced the ball forcefully. Forcefully is an adverb, not an adjective, since it is modifying the verb “bounced” not either of the nouns (“boy” or “ball”).

As a helpful tidbit, adverbs often end in -ly making it a little simpler to differentiate them and adjectives.

Luckily, for the most part, people have some natural idea whether to use an adjective or an adverb, especially since adverbs should be used relatively sparsely (double adverbs there!) in prose as it is. (More often than not, it is possible to use a stronger verb rather than an adverb in writing: said softly=whispered; ran quickly=sprinted). The largest problem I tend to find in writing, however, is quicker vs. more quickly.

Part of this comes from the lexicon. When speaking, people–more often than not–tend to use as few syllables as possible. That’s why not using contractions seems odd. Few people say, “That is why I am not going to go…” when they could just say “That’s why I’m not going to…” With “quicker” being, well, quicker to say than “more quickly” people speaking tend to use it as a catch-all (“If he doesn’t do his homework quicker he’s going to be late”).

So what’s the problem? “Quicker”, when used properly, is an adjective. Okay, okay, you can get into an argument about English evolving with usage and using “quicker” as an adverb not being the end of the world (it really isn’t), but the fact is “more quickly” is the proper phrasing to make “quick” an adverb.

Most tips I have seen suggest using “quickly” over “quicker” in formal works with “quicker” being all right informally (again, not the end of the world), but I, personally, tend to use this as a narrative vs. dialogue tip in my own writing. If it sounds too formal for your character who says “ain’t” and “gotta” to turn around and say “more quickly” don’t try to force it. The voice of your character comes first in dialogue. In narrative, however, proper grammar seems a little more important (works written as missives notwithstanding).

Will this rule change in the future? Possibly. Someone once railed against splitting infinitives, after all. But for the time being, it is always my suggestion to use “more quickly” over “quicker” when it comes to adverbs unless it is a conscious choice about voice.

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