You're Allowed an Adverb

Communicate Like a Human: Lesson 1.

Alexa is a fan of the adverb.

The adverb is the word that describes the verb it comes before or after.

The adverb, along with its brother by another mother, the adjective, is seen by many people as an unnecessary POS (part-of-speech). They say it disrupts facts with feelings. That it adds little value of its own.

We disagree with these generalising statements. We believe you're allowed an adverb.

Here you can learn the benefit of using adverbs as smart intensifiers.

This video shows how Alexa does it in clips from Talking Reality, our research into the language techniques used by the virtual assistants.



The case against the adverb

Those who take umbrage with adverbs believe:

  • Adverbs take up space with unnecessary description.

  • Adverbs reflect the subjective opinion of the writer more than the action (or thing) they describe.

  • Adverbs are the road bumps that delay information being exchanged from A to B.

When keeping word count down is the priority, adverbs will often be culled first by the metaphorical sabres of editors, both human and technological.


In defence of the adverb

  • Generalising is never helpful when it comes to language usage.

  • You should not discard a word just because it is a particular POS.

Sure, if you’re bursting with adverbs, and descriptions have overtaken nouns, then a bit of a trim might be wise. Look at each in turn and take a moment to question their individual value. Read aloud to see if you would miss an important point by their removal. If so, don't remove.

Actively look for places where an adverb would help with your argument or flow. If you know where it is, you know why it is there.

Having a rational purpose overrules any ill-conceived idea of business-speak that calls for its removal.

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Intensifying adverbs

The adverbs Alexa uses in the clip are maybe and definitely. These adverbs add emphasis. They are also known as intensifiers.

Being good little adverbs, they are still doing their job and describing a verb. The difference is that the intensifier describes the auxiliary verb which, in turn, gives the main verb its tense.

To break this down, let's use Alexa's sentence, 'Maybe this will help'

  • The main verb is 'help'.

  • The auxiliary verb is 'will'. It provides tense for the main verb, 'help'.

  • We now have a verb phrase that is future tense, 'will help'.

  • The adverb is 'maybe'. It gives a condition to the verb phrase, 'maybe will help'

  • All of which relates to the subject of the sentence, This.

The effect of the intensifier may seem slight, but the condition adds weakness or strength to the action or verb phrase.

Definitely exudes confidence in a very matter-of-fact manner. It also encourages others to share in the positive sentiment. You may be defending a challenge. Or showing your enthusiasm.

Maybe shows a lack of belief, but helps avoid you being accused of negativity. Maybe means you can share how hard you've worked and how helpful you are, without showing any naïve expectation of the output.

The use of both will influence opinion. Neither are especially combative but can be manipulative. Good enough reason to use them then.



  • If you have no description at all, you have no individuality in your writing.

  • Without adverbs, you may just be writing bullet points in sentence form.

  • A rational purpose for inclusion overrules an ill-conceived rule to remove.

  • Intensifiers add weakness or strength to an action or verb phrase.

  • Intensifiers influence opinion without causing argument.


On to Lesson 2: Colloquialisms Can be Charming


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