Adverbs are not stylishly cool


Dear client,

John Pawson‘s architecture is not “stylishly minimalist”. It is minimalist. There’s nothing wrong about stating something that everyone has already stated. You won’t sound more original by adding an adverb.

Georges Clémenceau once said: “a sentence is made up of a subject, a verb and an object. Those who would like to use an adjective must come and see me in my office. Those who’ll use an adverb will be fired“.

The reason I mention Clémenceau’s quote is because I have to translate what you write. Even if no one will read it, I’ll have to. So – pretty please – have mercy and refrain from cluttering.

English is not my mother tongue and I’m not the right person to advise you on English style. But I know someone who can: William Zinsser.

Here’s what he says about adverbs in his bestseller On Writing Well (1976/2006, HarperCollins, p69):

Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs. So are adjectives and other parts of speech: “effortlessly easy”, “slightly spartan”, “totally flabbergasted. The beauty of “flabbergasted” is that it implies an astonishment that is total; I can’t picture someone being partly flabbergasted. If an action is so easy as to be effortless, use “effortless”. And what is “slightly spartan”? Perhaps a monk’s cell with a wall-to-wall carpeting. Don’t use adverbs unless they do necessary work.

He’s witty, isn’t he? He’s right though. We all clutter with adverbs. So please, leave out those “exquisitely simple”, “seriously stylish”, “decidedly modern”, “exquisitely sublime”, “delightfully designed”, etc. They don’t make you sound cool.

Cool is simple. Cool is stylish. Cool is modern.

“Stylishly minimalist” is not cool. It makes you sound bling-bling.

And while we’re at it, can you also get rid of the “probably”, “potentially” and “possibly”? Don’t take it personally, I’m only trying to help.

You see, many people are allergic to weak superlatives. Leave politicians and journalists to argue about what’s “potentially one of the best”. Your clients are only interested in getting the best. They want to be reassured that they’re getting the biggest, the greatest, the finest and the most amazing.

And if you’re not sure that your product is the best, then don’t say it.

Yours (respectfully!)

3 Responses to “Adverbs are not stylishly cool”
  1. Another great post Pierre…. and please ask the French to stop peppering their sentences with “notamment” while you’re at it :-)

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