Hate, Actually

My crusade against adverbs continues! In short, there are a variety of reasons to avoid adverbs. They’re substitutes for better single verbs, substitutes for better writing in general, and a lot of the time they’re also unnecessary or misplaced. Today’s example of an unnecessary and misplaced adverb is often found in speech as well as writing, so perhaps you’ll have a chance to end a bad speaking habit as well as improve your prose. Have a read of the following example:

The travelers were so surprised by the dragon that they actually started running in the opposite direction.

In the example above, “actually” is unnecessary (and arguably incorrect), the reason being that the adverb doesn’t do anything for the sentence. The travelers were surprised by the appearance of a dragon (as most people are, since dragons are big, and scary, and eat people), and so they started running. End of story. There is nothing surprising about their reaction to the dragon, so modifying their reaction is a useless addition to the sentence.

The word “actually” is best used when describing a situation that is different from what is expected or intended. For example:

Although the travelers agreed they would stand their ground if a dragon showed up, when it did, they actually ran away.

In this case, the travelers had decided upon a course of action, but when the situation arose, they ended up not doing what they had said. Here are some examples of when “actually” is used correctly:

We had been told his last words named Oscar as the killer, but the woman on the scene told us he’d actually said it was Felix.

They said the food was pricey, but it was actually quite reasonable.

Simply adding “actually” to a sentence such as “I actually enjoyed the cake” (when there’s no expectation that the cake would be bad) or “Gary never actually said he’d make it to the party (when there’s no need to emphasize Gary’s exact words) is excess writing, and the writer is always encouraged to get rid of excesses in her or his writing.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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