By Susan E. Lindsey
“Kill the adverbs,” Mark Twain declares.
“How can I convey what I mean?” the writer whines.
To minimize use of adverbs, use strong, specific verbs. You could write that a character quickly (or slowly) walked to the door. But think of the vast array of other verbs for “walk,” including bolt, lurch, lumber, plod, strut, pace, sprint, stroll, tread, stride, march, dash, and saunter. All of these give the reader a much more vivid picture.
William Zinsser wrote, “Probably no other language has such a vast supply of verbs so bright with color. Don’t choose one that is dull or merely serviceable.”
I recently made a list of great verbs I found in a nonfiction book I was reading. The list included clot, erupt, gnaw, hack, hiss, jolt, ooze, pluck, pop, scuttle, shudder, smash, squabble, thrum, and wince. Try this exercise with one of your favorite books—you will be amazed at the list you can generate.
Verbs are the engine of good writing. They propel the story forward, fill the book with action, and keep the reader engaged. Don’t choose wussy, everyday verbs that need an adverb to support them. Power up your writing with strong verbs.
This article first appeared in Savvy Writer, a publication of Savvy Communication; it is used here with permission. For a free subscription to Savvy Writer, send an email to with “subscribe” in the subject line.