Today's lesson: the most common adjectival and adverbial mistakes one finds in self-published books.
Even authors aside, most people have no problem identifying adjectives and adverbs. For the small few who do, adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify adjectives and other adverbs; adverbial phrases modify nominal phrases and adverbial phrases modify adjectival phrases. What many authors don’t know, however, is how to use all of them the right way.
Adjectives v. Adverbs
While most writers know the rules, many seem to forget them when it comes to a number of common words. Take the following sentence, for example:
She talked too loud.
Here, “loud” modifies “talked;” however, “loud” is always an adjective, so it needs to be replaced with an adverb:
She talked too loudly.
Now, there’s still a way to use “loud” here, but we’d need to change the verb to change in a way that shifts the modification to “she,” as exemplified in the following:
She was too loud.
Other common adjectives commonly used in place of adverbs are slow, real, heavy, nice, good, and bad. For example:
She was real smart (wrong). / She was really smart (right).
It rained heavy today (wrong). / It rained heavily today (right).
Play nice (wrong). / Play nicely (right).
You did good (wrong). / You did well (right).
She was hurt bad (wrong). / She was hurt badly (right).
Although there are exceptions, a good rule of thumb when using two or more adjectives strung together is to hyphenate. This rule also applies to adjectives modifying implied nouns. For example:
The ten-year-old boy had blond hair. / The ten-year-old had blond hair.
The last-ditch effort was worthwhile.
However, if using an adverb with an adjective, a hyphen is usually (but not always) incorrect.
She browsed through the adequately stocked aisles.
In some instances, the adverb-adjective combination does require a hyphen, such as in the following example:
She browsed through the well-stocked aisles.
Multiple-word modifiers can be tricky, so always look them up when in doubt.
Commas and Adverbial Phrases
I covered this one in a previous post, but the problem is so prevalent I felt it pertinent to repeat it. An adverbial phrase is any cluster of words that modifies the main clause. It can determine how, when, why, or where the main clause is being performed.
The rule: If the adverbial phrase comes before the main clause, use a comma. Don’t use a comma if the adverbial phrase comes after the main clause. For example:
Earlier that day she went to the park (wrong). / Earlier that day, she went to the park (right).
“Earlier that day” is an adverbial phrase, modifying the main clause, “she went to the park.” Since the adverbial clause comes before the main clause, it needs a comma.
She went to the park, earlier that day (wrong). / She went to the park earlier that day (right).
Here, the adverbial phrase comes after the main clause, so it is incorrect to use a comma in this case.
While you might have readers who also do not know the rules, there is always a chance that editors, agents, or reviewers reading your work do. If you take the time to know and understand these rules, your writing will be sharper and you will be able to present it to the world with confidence and skill.
Until next time, my pretties! (Insert evil cackle.)