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Welcome to this week's FREE English lesson on the Web's best site for ESL students and teachers...

Topic:  Making Your Writing More Interesting, Part I

One of the questions that many writers confront is "My writing is so boring that even I don’t want to read it.  How can I make my writing more interesting, appealing and attractive to my readers?"  This is a very good question, but there are many answers.  In fact, there are many ways to make your writing more interesting.  This week, we are going to discuss just one of those ways. 

 

Can you imagine picking up a mystery book and reading the following?

 

“The man got in the car.  He drove his car to the old house.  He walked up to the door and knocked on it.  The door opened.”

Question:  Is this man a friend or enemy of the owner of the house?

 

Answer:  You don’t know.  There is too little information here.  You, however, can add some words that would help the reader take a good guess as to whether the man is a friend or enemy (or other).  Not only are these sentences unclear, they are also very boring. 

 

How do those famous writers (i.e.; Stephen King, Agatha Christie) make their ideas and sentences so good that you are willing to spend $25 just on one of their books?  One way good writers make their writing more interesting is to add adverbs.  What’s an adverb?  Let us explain.

 

An adverb is a word that has many jobs.  One of its jobs is to describe HOW an action is done.  The first sentence in the above example reads

 

“The man got in the car.” 

 

However, we must ask, “HOW did the man get in the car?”  Did he get in the car slowly, quickly, cowardly, ferociously, bravely, wildly, rowdily, quietly, loudly, brazenly, boldly, or shamelessly?  By answering how the man got in the car, you describe the situation to your readers.  The readers can now visualize and understand the scene more clearly.  In turn, your readers will find your writing much more interesting. 

 

Take another look at the adverbs listed in the above paragraph.  What did you notice?  They all end in –ly.  Actually, NOT all adverbs end in –ly, and NOT all –ly words are adverbs.  However, many adverbs DO end in –ly.

 

Let’s add adverbs to our sentences from above:

 

“The man quickly got in the car.  He peacefully drove his car to the old house.  He happily walked up to the door and swiftly knocked on it.  The door  opened immediately.”

 

Was he a friend or foe (enemy)?  A friend, of course.  The words that tell us that he is probably a friend are the adverbs—quickly, peacefully, happily, swiftly, and immediately.  It is the second and third adverbs that tell us this man is most likely a friend. 

 

Now, let’s change the adverbs:

 

“The man angrily got in the car.  He frantically drove his car to the old house.  He ferociously walked up to the door and loudly knocked on it.  The door opened violently.”

Was he a friend or foe?  He is most likely a foe.  Again, it was the adverbs that told us.  As you can see, adding adverbs is extremely important.  It tells the reader a lot about what you are writing about. Remember this rule:  

 

“A good writer is like an artist—he/she paints a picture in the reader’s mind using words.”

 

How do you make an adverb?  One of the best ways to form adverbs is to add –ly to the end of an adjective.

 

Adjective Adverb
strange strangely
calm calmly
usual usually
rapid rapidly
awkward awkwardly
strict strictly
sad sadly
violent violently
angry angrily
suspicious suspiciously

   

 

Now, the question is where do you put them?  That is somewhat easy.  There are many exceptions in English grammar, but the best way to explain the rules about where to put the adverb is to follow the suggestions below.

 

1. If the verb you are modifying or describing is the last word in the sentence, put the adverb at the end of the sentence. 

Example: The sun rises.

If you want to add the adverb "slowly," look at the above sentence.  The last word is rises.  Therefore, put "slowly" at the end.

                 The sun rises slowly.

There are some verbs which, although at the end of the sentence, can still have an adverb in front of it.  

Example:  The sun slowly rises.   

Some verbs only allow an adverb after it when the verb is at the end of the sentence, but others are best in front of the verb.

 

2. If the verb you are modifying or describing is NOT the last word in the sentence, put the adverb directly before the verb, at the end of the sentence, or at the end of the clause with the verb.

Example: Rebecca leaves the house.

If you want to add the adverb "quickly," look at the following sentence.  The verb (leaves) is in the middle of the sentence.  Hence, you have two ways of writing this sentence:

                 Rebecca quickly leaves the house.

                 Rebecca leaves the house quickly.

Quiz

Directions:  Read each sentence below.  Then, add the adverb in parentheses.  Remember: there may be more than one answer!

Answers are below. 

1.  The manager of the restaurant interviewed lots of people for the job of waiter.  (aggressively)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

 

2. The dog barked. (continuously)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

 

3. The rocket blasted off. (loudly)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

 

4. The surgeon operated on the patient.  (nervously)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

 

5.  I have studied Russian.  (diligently)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

 

6.  By Tuesday, Jordan and Joshua will have been on the mountain for three days.  (reluctantly)

 

___________________________________________________________________ 

1.  The manager of the restaurant interviewed lots of people for the job of waiter.  (aggressively)

Answer: The manager of the restaurant aggressively interviewed lots of people for the job of waiter.  

Explanation: The verb in this sentence is interviewed.  You cannot put the adverb aggressively at the end of the sentence because it is too far away from the verb interviewed

 

The manager of the restaurant interviewed lots of people.

You may be able to put aggressively at the end.  Thus, you could write the following sentence:  The manager of the restaurant interviewed lots of people aggressively.  However, this sentence is also awkward and a little confusing.

 

The best way to determine if the adverb is too far away from the verb is too see if the verb is in the last clause or phrase of the sentence.  Here, the last phrase is "for the job of waiter."  Since the verb is not in this phrase, it is too far away (the verb is in the clause before this phrase) (This rule does not work 100% of the time).  In addition, if the verb is more than 5 or six words from the end of the sentence, it is probably a good idea NOT to put the adverb at the end.  When in doubt, just put the adverb in front of the verb.

 

2. The dog barked. (continuously)    

Answer: The dog barked continuously  -OR- The dog continuously barked are both correct.  

 

3.  The rocket blasted off. (loudly)

Answer: The rocket blasted off loudly

Explanation: This is an interesting example because "blasted" and "off" are called "two-word verbs."  That means that they must be together to keep the meaning.  Since it is considered ONE verb, the adverb goes after "off."

 

4.  The surgeon operated on the patient.  (nervously)

Answer: The surgeon nervously operated on the patient.   

Explanation: Although the verb is only 3 words away from the end of the sentence, it is still better to put the adverb in front of the verb because "on the patient" is a (prepositional) phrase. 

 

5. I have studied Russian.  (diligently)

Answer: I have diligently studied Russian  -OR-   I have  studied Russian diligently .  

Explanation: The main verb in this sentence is NOT "have" but rather "studied." Therefore, "diligently" can go in one of two places.

 

6. By Tuesday, Jordan and Joshua will have been on the mountain for three days.  (reluctantly)

Answer: By Tuesday, Jordan and Joshua will have reluctantly been on the mountain for three days.  

Explanation: The grammar tense here is the future perfect progressive (will have been).  The main verb is "been."  Therefore, the adverb goes before "been."  In fact, if the grammar tense contains a form of the verb "to be," put the adverb in front of the verb to be and NOT in front of the main verb (see rule 6 below).  You can't put the adverb at the end of the sentence because it is too far away from the verb.  

Rules to Remember!

1

One of the best ways to form adverbs is to add –ly to the end of an adjective.  However, not all -ly words are adverbs and not all adverbs have -ly at the end.  Here is a list of adverbs that do NOT have -ly

Hard means difficult.  Hardly is NOT the adverb of hard.  Hardly means very little.  Therefore,

I worked hard and I hardly worked  are opposites!  The first sentence means that you worked a lot, whereas the second sentence means you worked only a little (no joke--don't get mad at us, we didn't invent English--we simply teach it).

2

Other exceptions:

3

If the verb you are modifying or describing is the last word in the sentence, put the adverb at the end of the sentence. 

Example: The sun rises.

If you want to add the adverb "slowly," look at the sentence.  The last word is rises.  Therefore, put "slowly" at the end.

                 The sun rises slowly.     

There are some verbs which, although at the end of the sentence, can still have an adverb in front of it.  

Example:  The sun slowly rises.   

Some verbs only allow an adverb after it when the verb is at the end of the sentence. 

4

If the verb you are modifying or describing is NOT the last word in the sentence, put the adverb directly before the verb OR at the end of the sentence or at the end of the clause with the verb.

Example: Rebecca leaves the house.

If you want to add the adverb "quickly," look at the sentence.  The verb (leaves) is in the middle of the sentence.  Hence, you have two ways of writing this sentence:

                 Rebecca quickly leaves the house.

                 Rebecca leaves the house quickly.

5 The best way to determine if the adverb is too far away from the verb is too see if the verb is in the last clause or phrase of the sentence (this rule is NOT 100%).  In addition, if the verb is more than 5 or six words from the end of the sentence, it is probably a good idea NOT to put the adverb at the end.  When in doubt, just put the adverb in front of the verb.
6 If the grammar tense contains a form of the verb "to be," put the adverb in front of the verb to be and NOT in front of the main verb.  For example:

                The car has already been fixed.

The main verb is fixed, but since this tense (has been fixed--present perfect) has a form of "to be" (been), the adverb already goes in front of been.

 

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