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Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
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Misused and Abused Adverbs

Once upon a time, people probably used adverbs correctly. Nowadays, these poor little words are rendered nearly meaningless by over-use and improper use. You can tighten your work by not using these adverbs at all, or using them very seldom. Here are the four I’d most like to see evaporated by a ray gun.

 

Hopefully

This word means “in a hopeful manner.” It does not mean “if things go well…” or “I hope that….” So when you say “Hopefully, the system won’t crash,” you are saying that the system will not crash with its tendril-like hands held pleading in a hopeful manner, and you imply that the system will be vengeful as it displays the blue screen of death. Okay, so maybe that’s not the best example. I heard my own system chortle unpleasantly as the monitor caught on fire, after all. But I think you get my meaning.

 

Basically

I once had a professor who said that every time a student prefaced an answer with “basically,” he assumed that the student was guessing. Basically can mean “in a basic manner,” or it can mean that you are about to describe the fundamental aspects of the subject under discussion. It does not mean “kind of” or “I think.” Most of the time, I see this word as a caveat word, used to soften whatever comes next, and I hear it all the time in spoken language, as well, stealing most of the meaning from the sentence to follow. Like hopefully, basically is a word to edit out most of the time.

 

Actually

Although actually means “in an actual manner,” “really,” or “truly,” it has come to mean “in point of fact,” as well. I don’t see this one abused too much in the written word, but some people (is it only MBAs or does it just seem that way?) preface nearly every sentence with the word, and toss a few more into the middle of the occasional sentence, just in case we think they might be talking about something fictitious. Like hopefully and basically, actually is just an (unsuccessful) distraction from what the rest of the sentence says.

 

Personally

When you’re writing in the first person (“I did this”), you don’t need to point out that it’s a personal experience. In fact, the more I think about it, the only time I can imagine using the word is when talking about some offense, “he took it personally,” or “don’t take it personally.” It’s kind of like saying “in my opinion,” when you are unlikely to be expressing someone else’s opinion.

 

Hopefully, you can basically see my actual point, and personally limit your actual adverb use accordingly.