The adverb is not your friend. Adverbs ...are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind.... With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
—Stephen King, On Writing, 2000
There are numerous usage "rules" regarding the placement of adverbs in prose: one shouldn't split a compound verb or infinitive with them (so no "to boldly go" or "must be heartily congratulated"); one must place them closest to the word they are modifying (so no "Quickly the news anchor corrected himself"; go with "The news anchor quickly corrected himself"); one shouldn't start a sentence with them, especially if the adverb in question is hopefully; one should know when to use a flat adverb (like quick in "move quick" and safe in "drive safe") and when to use an inflected -ly adverb (like "quickly move aside" and "safely drive the truck"); the overuse of qualifying adverbs like perhaps and somewhat "amounts with English journalists to a disease," as Henry Fowler put it in 1908, adding that "the intemperate orgy of moderation is renewed every morning."
The words that get picked on the most are, as King points out, the -ly adverbs. They're derided as lazy and redundant, particularly when paired with a speaking verb:
He shouted angrily at her. "Don't go in there!" she said fearfully. "I'm sad," he said sadly.
These are terrible sentences: shouting usually implies upset; you can find a better speaking verb like "whispered" or "shrieked" to get the idea that she's afraid across; and it's a good thing that last sentence is fictional, because were it to appear in writing, it would likely cause the deaths of millions of copy editors due to rage-aneurysms upon first read. The advice to, as King puts it, "use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of cases....and not even then, if you can avoid it" makes sense when one is faced with a sentence like "I'm tired," she said jadedly. We're tired of these sentences too.
But the idea that adverbs as a whole need to be excised from prose is ridiculous. First, the targets are always words that end in -ly, some of which (like manly and friendly) are not adverbs at all. Second, a wide variety of words that we use in everyday, idiomatic prose are adverbs. Here's an example:
But the idea that adverbs as a whole need to be excised from prose is ridiculous. First, the targets are always words that end in -ly, some of which (like manly and friendly) are not adverbs at all.
The adverb is one of our hardest-working parts of speech, and it doesn't deserve the scorn heaped upon it. Before you cut an adverb, make sure it's not vital to the meaning of your sentence ("They treated him brutally" is not the same as "They treated him," though it's also not as powerful as providing concrete details of the way he was treated), and if you do decide to hack away at them, make sure that your -ly words are actually adverbs. But don't try to get rid of all of them. Even Stephen King uses them, and in the paragraph telling you not to:
With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.