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February 11, 2015

Finding Adverbs

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

I received an interesting request the other day: How can someone use Microsoft Word to locate all the adverbs in a document?

I bet you’re thinking the same thing I’m thinking: What’s an adverb?

Of course, I know what an adverb is. From Mr. Kmak’s 8th grade English class, an adverb is a word that modifies a verb. It tells you how something was done, expanding upon the action. So:

Johnny runs. Subject verb.

Johnny runs quickly. Subject verb adverb.

In English, adverbs typically end with the letter sequence ly.

In Word, however, adverbs are just more text on the page. Word can no more find an adverb than it could locate any other type of word: noun, verb, adjective, conjunction, infinitive, gerund, and all those other terms that are important to understanding language but long forgotten by native English speakers.

Seriously: If you want to know grammar, study a foreign language. Nothing drives home language structure like studying a language that actually has structure. English is merely a cluster of common phrases repeated by rote. It’s grammar rules are enforced by a sloth taking nap.

Because adverbs typically end in ly, it’s possible to search for those words. It’s not pretty, but it kind of works.

Start by pressing Ctrl+F to bring up the Navigation Pane in Word, shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Searching for adverbs, kinda.

Figure 1. Searching for adverbs, kinda.

In older versions of Word, pressing Ctrl+F brought up the “classic” Find dialog box. The Navigation Pane is different. It shows headings and such in your document, and it makes for a better searching tool as far as an overview is concerned.

Type ly into the search box. You see a list of every instance of ly in your document in context, as shown in Figure 1. Some of those entries are adverbs: early, only, really, perfectly. One is a name: Molly. The body of your text also shows all the ly instances highlighted, which is another boon to the mundane search command.

The count from Figure 1 shows 28 results. Use the up or down arrows to page through the items in your document, or click a paragraph preview to jump to a location.

Does this trick work? Kinda. Again, Word search for text, not context. The grammar checker will spot some language abuses, but it doesn’t evaluate individual words for proper use or choice. Perhaps a future version of Word will go in depth on that regard, but for now searching for ly is the best you can do to locate an adverb in your document. It does so quickly, effectively, and silently.

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