ADVERBS: Are They “GRADUALLY” Becoming Extinct?

I was constantly being corrected in my former years. My mother’s side of the family seemed to have a penchant for hearing orally communicated errors. Then, they would instantly correct you because it was forbidden to speak improperly. For example, if I ever said, “I shouldda went,” my Aunt Phyllis would respond with: “What did you just say? I shouldda went? That’s NOT how we talk in this family… “I should have gone…” After a while, I had to monitor my grammar (to define grammar would put anyone to sleep). At other times, I would use poor grammar to get even with someone in my family (worse things could happen). For example, my late Grandmother—may she rest—emphasized proper subject verb agreement, appropriate word choice, etc. One day, she yelled at me for something. A few minutes passed and then I unleashed revenge: “Grandma, it’s dark outside and it looks like the weather is becoming RANCID.” Her face became the shade of a Bing Cherry: “WEATHER DOES NOT BECOME RANCID; MILK BECOMES RANCID!” She was bent; revenge had taken its toll. Improper grammar became a weapon. In the wrong hands, someone’s mind could become incredibly twisted. Times have surely changed. When my students speak, they would have wiped out half my family if they resorted to using grammar as a weapon. We segue into the teacher/school topic…My Aunt Phyllis taught in New York City Public Schools for 33 years; she successfully made it to retirement despite all of the grammar that she corrected. As for me, I’ve been teaching in New York City Public Schools just shy of 7 years. Since I teach English at the secondary level, I find myself constantly correcting my student’s mistakes. It’s incredibly ironic because I always thought that correcting people was rude and annoying. Now, that I’m older, I do this on a daily basis and get paid for it. I should be grateful for my former Jedi training…
Inner City children have a unique language. “Brick” actually means “cold.” “Brolic” is a term suggesting how muscular (Buff) a person is. Their subject verb agreement usage would make you cringe: “I been done that cause we was finished like yesterday…” Make no mistake, I have become very fond of my 7th Grade Angels. I have a love and hate relationship with them, but I never actually get to the point of hating them. Even the terrorists have carved a likeable niche in my dendrites. I have to be grateful and somewhat lucky because we’ve established mutual respect. I’m very tough with them and they test me daily, but I’m still the boss. When I become angry about something, they know it’s their fault. They know that there is a reason to my madness and I care about their results. Moreover, it’s my job to be there as a teacher, guidance counselor, surrogate dad, sounding board, accountant, lawyer, warden, referee, and a few other things… I thought teaching English consisted of imparting reading and writing wisdom. We’ll save that discussion for another day because it’s long-winded. I wanted to actually discuss ADVERBS. I believe that they might become an endangered species. Since I tend to be a language purist, I try to use Adverbs as CORRECTLY as I can. I don’t tell people to “drive safe” because it’s wrong. Drivers need to drive safely. I’ve heard “go get help—quick!” We should get help quickly.
I’ve heard drummers say, “play that part smooth or it doesn’t groove.” Play it smoothly with a groove. There are a myriad of examples…
I’ve been perusing several websites and talking to colleagues about Adverbs. Check out this website:
It explains Adverbs in great detail… We commonly think of Adverbs as words ending in L and Y: Comically, hardly, beautifully, entirely, bashfully, physically, mentally, etc. Interestingly, the word “well” is considered an Adverb. It tends to drives me bananas: “You look good”; “I don’t feel well”; “I feel good”; “That burger tastes good” “That sauce goes well with the Chicken…”
Adverbs are very hard to teach to anyone, especially hormonal inner city Teens. Observe this typical student/teacher dialogue:
Student: “Mr. J., what’s an adverb?”
Mr. J: “An adverb is a word that modifies a verb.”
Student: “What does modifies mean?”
Mr. J: “If you have a verb and you want to explain the level, impact, and intensity, you have to know how to use adverbs. For example, “Jessica screamed; it was very (inner city kids use “mad” as a modifier for “very”) loud—in your world, “Mad loud.”
“Loud is an adjective—a description word. You can’t say Jessica screamed loud; Instead, you say Jessica screamed LOUDLY.”
Student: “Why? I don’t really get it.”
Mr. J: “There are different levels of screaming; we show that level with adverbs.”
The student’s eyes become glossy; he/she scratches his/her head; he looks at me
as if I’m speaking a different language; the head tilts to one side; enter a large yawn.
Student: “Mr. J., I don’t get it and it sounds kind of boring.”
Rinse, lather and repeat… How do I explain it this time without putting them into some sort of long-term coma?
A Bright Student: “Mr. J. In the constitution, it says “All men are created equal.” Is that the right way to say it?”
Mr. J: “Technically, all men should be created EQUALLY.”
At this point, it’s Mr. J. versus The Constitution; the student is becoming bored at an exponential rate. How do I explain that one? People believe The Constitution more than a New York City English Teacher.
Mr. J: “Do you know what the word ‘pure’ means, Jose?”
Student: “It means that something is clean, not dirty.”
Mr. J: “That’s good. I believe that language has to be pure, clean, and not dirty (I don’t mean curse words). That is why I try my best to speak correctly and not change words or invent new ones.  If language keeps changing and people keep making mistakes, we might get frustrated with each other and not communicate our ideas in a clear way. Many problems that exist in the world can be connected to poor communication.”
Student: “Uh, ok…”
Birds begin to chirp, the student’s eyes form a glaze similar to a Fruit Tart.
Mr. J: “It’s important to read and write correctly, especially if you have a test—when we practice editing people’s mistakes, we’re going to run into Adverbs at some point.”
The student yawns again and is no longer making eye contact. They are probably thinking about video games, Basketball, food, texting, dating, etc.
Student: “I gotta bounce (leave), Mr. J.”
Mr. J: “Ok, I’ll see you later…”
It’s important to have conversations with students. My job is to improve their writing (elevate reading and writing imagery to a higher level), help them become more avid readers, and communicate ideas as clearly as possible. I do this because I want them to understand the power of language and clear communication. With all of those English balanced literacy and whole language challenges on my plate, I’m not sure if can justify spending a great deal of time on Adverbs. Yet, I still boil when someone says, “think different”; “act wise”; “I feel bad…”
Will Adverbs become used and abused to the point of extinction? I would love to hear what people think…Please drop me a line.

Best, Evan J.