An adjective is a describing word, used to give more information about a noun or noun phrase.  An adverb is also a describing word, but this time applies to verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, clauses, basically anything except nouns.  Aspiring authors are often advised to remove all adjectives and adverbs from their work, because they are “useless fat”.

In the spirit of discovery, I decided to discover more about adjectives and adverbs, in the hope of answering the question: what’s so bad about adjectives?

Quick Grammatical Summary

There are four types of adjective:

    • Attributive (part of the noun phrase) (That’s a large book),
    • Predicative (linked to the noun with a copula) (That book is large),
    • Postpositive (appears after the noun) (Something large, books aplenty),
    • Substantive (using the adjective as a noun) (The large are seen better than the small).

Adverbs are more interesting, not least because they include things that I, educated in a fairly normal school, didn’t know were adverbs at all.  (I wish they taught grammar better at school).

First the ones I knew about:

    • She walked slowly.

And then we have:

    • They played together. (Where “together” modifies the playing.)
    • She walked quite slowly. (Where “quite” modifies “slowly”.)

It’s become clear to me as I write this that the ones I knew about are only those that modify verbs.  I say again, I wish they taught grammar better at school.

So What Is The Problem With Adjectives?

Now, I can see that too many adjectives and adverbs might get annoying:

It was a cold, dark, windy night, and the old wooden doors were creaking loudly in the strong gusty winds.

But, sometimes they are needed:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed and replied, “Is that so?”

Could be this:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed nervously and replied, “Is that so?”

Or this:

The demon approached Bill and said “Tonight, I will feast.”

Bill laughed confidently and replied, “Is that so?”

Mind you, if we’d already set the scene – Bill is a fearless demon hunter and the demon in question is two feet tall – then the adjective might not be necessary.  Perhaps it is all down to context.

And that, I think, is the key.  If you have managed to successfully set the scene well enough that the emotions behind your characters’ actions are obvious even without adjectives, then you win.

Final Thought

The conclusion I seem to have come to is that adjectives and adverbs aren’t inherently evil, but if you can remove them all from your work and still have people understand what is going on, then your writing has got to be pretty good.