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1. Relating to an ADVERB: an adverbial clause.

2. A WORD, PHRASE, or CLAUSE that modifies a VERB or a verb plus other words: usually and on the terrace in ‘Breakfast is usually served on the terrace’; more quietly in ‘You must close the door more quietly’. Unlike subjects, verbs, and objects, most adverbials are optional and may be omitted without making a sentence ungrammatical: ‘At this time of the year they usually serve cider with the meal, if the guests don't object’. Some verbs, however, require an adverbial: put needs a place adverbial (‘Put the dog outside’), last an adverbial of duration (‘The meeting lasted nearly two hours’). Grammarians usually distinguish between sentence adverbials (adverbials that modify the sentence as a whole) and adjuncts (all other adverbials).

Sentence adverbials

There is no agreement on the adverbials to be counted as sentence adverbials (sometimes also called sentence adverbs). Such an item, however, modifies either a sentence as a whole (unfortunately in Unfortunately, the bank will not give me a large enough mortgage) or a clause within a sentence (unfortunately in I wanted to buy the house, but unfortunately the bank will not give me a large enough mortgage). The two major classes of sentence adverbs are conjuncts and disjuncts. Conjuncts indicate a connection between the unit in which they appear and another usually preceding unit: for example, accordingly. Disjuncts are a comment on the content or manner of what is being said or written: frankly, surprisingly. Most adverbs that function as conjuncts or disjuncts may have other functions.


Most conjuncts are adverbs (also known as conjunctive adverbs) and prepositional phrases. Their role can be demonstrated through paraphrases. In the sentence The shop ran out of liver before my turn came, so I raced to another shop, so can be paraphrased as ‘because the shop ran out of liver before my turn came’, giving the reason for what is said in the sentence or clause that it introduces. Conjuncts are grammatically distinct from coordinating conjunctions such as and, because the two types can occur together: in … and so I raced to another shop. Furthermore, unlike such conjunctions, most conjuncts are not restricted to initial position, as when so is replaced by therefore. The units linked by conjuncts vary in size, though typically they are sentences or clauses. The example with so demonstrates a link between two possibly independent sentences, but the connection may be between smaller units: yet in She was over ninety and yet in full possession of her mental faculties. Conjuncts can also link paragraphs or sequences of paragraphs. They signal a variety of connective meanings, such as: listing (first, firstly, first of all, second, secondly, next, finally, also, furthermore); summarizing (overall); apposition (for example, for instance, namely, in other words); result (so, therefore, consequently); inference (then); contrast (on the one hand/on the other hand, rather, however, nevertheless); transition (incidentally). On the whole, conjuncts are a closed class of items that can be listed, with the exception of enumerative adverbs (first, second, etc.) which make up a potentially infinite list.


There are two kinds of disjuncts: style disjuncts and content disjuncts. Style disjuncts express comments by speakers on the style or manner in which they are speaking: frankly, as in Frankly, you have no chance of winning (= I am telling you this frankly); personally in Personally, I'd have nothing to do with them; with respect in With respect, it is not up to you to decide; if I may say so in They are rather rude, if I may say so; because she told me so in She won't be there, because she told me so (= I know that because she told me so). Content disjuncts comment on the content of what is being said. The most common express degrees of certainty and doubt as to what is being said: perhaps in Perhaps you can help me; undoubtedly in Undoubtedly, she is the winner; obviously in Obviously, she had no wish to help us. Others evaluate the content of the utterance, conveying some attitude towards it: that it is surprising (Unexpectedly, he arrived home and found them; To my surprise, nobody came) or not surprising (Naturally, I wanted to help; Understandably, she was annoyed); that it is fortunate (Happily, they came to me first; Luckily, we already knew about it) or unfortunate (Sadly, he died in an air crash; Tragically, we heard about it too late). Some pass judgement on the topic raised or indicate an emotional position: Rightly, she objected to what they were doing; Foolishly, he asked for more money; To my annoyance, nobody came.

Adverbs that typically have other functions also serve as disjuncts. Such a use occasionally arouses objections, as when hopefully, usually a manner adverb as in He waited hopefully for his results, is used as a content disjunct, as in Hopefully, we won't have to wait much longer. The use of an adverb as a disjunct can be unusual, as in: ‘Awkwardly, President Reagan's most forceful and innovative cabinet officer is in charge of a department that has marginal responsibility …’ (The Economist, 23 Nov. 1985); ‘Borges signed manifestos against the dictator and the dictator famously took his job away …’ (London Review of Books, 7 Aug. 1986). The functions of conjuncts and disjuncts are found in units other than adverbs: like finally are in conclusion and to sum up; like frankly are frankly speaking and if I may be frank; like probably are in all probability.


Adverbials integrated within the structure of the sentence are adjuncts. Among the features indicating that an adverbial is an adjunct is the ability to be questioned and negated. The because-clause in She took off her jacket because she felt hot can be questioned (Why did she take off her jacket?—Because she felt hot) and negated (She didn't take off her jacket because she felt hot, but for some other reason). Another common feature is that the because-clause can become the focus of a cleft sentence: It was because she felt hot that she took off her jacket. See PART OF SPEECH.

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