On the Subject of Adverbs

As I said in my review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there was one fundamental problem I had while reading that had me shaking my head to the point of near distraction. I realize that this is something that a lot of people won’t necessarily notice while reading, but as someone who constantly looks over his own writing for them, I couldn’t help but notice the annoying amount of adverbs (there’s a little bit of alliteration for ya, free of charge) that are present throughout the book.

Seriously, though, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is rife with adverbs, especially when paired with dialogue tags.

For example:

“Of course not,” said Hermione briskly. “How do you think you’d get the Stone without us? I’d better go and look through my books, there might be something useful. . . .”

“But if we get caught, you two will be expelled, too.”

“Not if I can help it,” said Hermione grimly.” Flitwick told me in secret that I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam. They’re not throwing me out after that.” – page 271


Now, that might not seem like a big deal to the common reader, but as someone who has been taught against using adverbs alongside dialogue tags, it really sticks out. I actually didn’t even look for that. I simply opened up the page I was on and there was a perfect example.

Adverbs, at least when they latch onto dialogue tags, are evidence to me of missed opportunities for the author to continue to help the reader see the scene. If the author is doing their job correctly, there should be no doubt in the reader’s mind as to how a character is saying their lines due to the description of the scene and action going on.

People can read situations, especially those who read books often, so to just put an adverb in rather than either keeping the dialogue tag as simple as saying “said” or adding some description of the body language or actions of character that is speaking is not only hurting the reader, but the author as well.

I suppose it just makes me a bit sad because of how wonderful the rest of Rowling’s writing is. I hope that it will improve in the following books, but as of now, it is the one thing that kept me from giving Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone a perfect score.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” – On Writing by Stephen King


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9 thoughts on “On the Subject of Adverbs

  1. I haven’t noticed the excessive use of adverbs in the Harry Potter books, but I do have to laugh because what irritates me about the books is the frequent use of ellipses. And the quote you highlighted has one in there 🙂


      1. They are everywhere!! 🙂 They didn’t stick out to me on my first read of the books, but it’s something I really notice on each re-read. I’ll be on the lookout for those adverbs when I next read the books!


  2. Is it possible that she tailored her writing to the age group of readers that were likely reading her books?
    It seemed as though her books and their themes grew with the readers. Perhaps that’s why her writing becomes cleaner in the later books? Do you think it was purposeful I guess is what I’m asking. 😉
    P.s. Figured I would look up your blog since you were so wonderful on mine! Thanks for your works of encouragement!!


    1. I suppose an argument could be made, but I really don’t know if there is much evidence to support that. Adverbs with dialogue tags are rampant in fiction and no one is innocent of using them. I think that it shows her growth more as a writer than the aging of her audience. While her writing is noticeably better and cleaner, as you said, in later books, adverbs still pop up quite a bit. And you’re welcome. Sometimes all we need is someone reminding us that a rejection isn’t a failure, it’s an opportunity to grow as a writer.


  3. This is also a symptom of editors being squeezed so much for time, that they don’t have time to edit. It used to be that editors spent significant time with each work and problems like this would be rooted out. But as publishing reduced to only a few giant publishers, and profit margins became all important, fewer and fewer editors were required to work on more and more books. The results are what we see now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hannah Widmer

    I’m sometimes bothered by this in novels too, but consider the reading level of Harry Potter. “Not if I can help it” can be read with a grim or determined voice. Including the adverb can help a young reader keep the plot and characters straight and, in this case, they get a chance to read into the sarcasm!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very good point. I will say that I’m not nearly as critical about adverbs as I was when I wrote this post. I suppose having a few years out of college and not spending as much time analyzing texts has helped me to find less pet peeves in literature haha!


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