Number of -ly adverbs per 10,000 words

Hemingway: 80

Twain: 81

Melville: 126

Austen: 128

J.K. Rowling: 140

E L James: 155

That is from the new and interesting Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, by Ben Blatt.  The Hemingway book with the highest usage rate for -ly adverbs, True at First Light, was released only after his death and is considered one of his worst works.  The same pattern is true for Faulkner and Steinbeck, namely that the most highly praised works have relatively low rates of -ly adverb usage.  Among other notable authors surveyed, D.H. Lawrence seems to be the most obvious exception to this regularity.

In the novel The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien used the word “she” only once.  In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, however, she relative to he is used 79% of the time, the highest ratio of the classics surveyed.  Female authors are very strongly represented on that side of the curve, let me tell you.  And male authors do the “he” far more, in relative terms, than female authors do the “she.”

You also will learn from this book that David Brooks starts more sentences with “The” than any other word, whereas for Paul Krugman that place of honor goes to “But.”  And, for better or worse, Krugman uses far less anaphora.

D.H. Lawrence leads for the number of animal similes.


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