Adverbs: The Legal System’s Most Valuable Part of Speech


Professional writers often subscribe to the idea that one of the most obvious traits of a poor writer is the overuse of modifiers, especially adverbs. They hold that a good writer can convey a point by the muscular use of subject, verb, and object, with a few articles, prepositions, and conjunctions sprinkled into the mix, and maybe an occasional adjective.

However, when it comes to written communication and the legal system, you might just lose your case if adverbs are avoided. Your convicted client might wonder why you stupidly, recklessly, and egotistically thought you could argue his case without a full grammatical toolbox. In this case, he'd be right.

Laws are written by legislators , who in most cases aren't Ernest Hemingway when it comes to writing, or even Nicholas Sparks. Not having the intent or time to hunt down precise verbs and adjectives, they resort to adverbs. Or perhaps in seeking to parse a point so delicate and painstakingly exact, they can't avoid employing one or more adverbs. When you're trying to make a point in law, making that point, even with adverbs, is more important than congratulating yourself on your grammatical ecology. 

The courts of America -- from the tiniest magistrate chamber to the Supreme Court -- ring with arguments that turn on the meaning and legislative intent of such words as "substantially," "knowingly," "blatantly," and "recklessly." If you use them prudently and properly, adverbs can be your help-mate and friend.

For more substantially interesting information on adverbs and other problematic parts of speech, please contact us at Hurley Write, Inc.

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