What is Fronted Adverbial? How It Helps Your Writing?

In this post, we’ll cover fronted adverbial and how it enhances our writing.

What’s fronted adverbial?

You might have read or written sentences like these.

On Saturday, we’re going on a field trip.

Because it was raining, I decided to exercise indoors.

Note: Fronted adverbials in examples have been underlined.

On Saturday and Because it was raining are fronted adverbials. They’re followed by a comma and a complete sentence. However, a comma is generally not used when the fronted adverbial is a one-word adverb. Example: Tomorrow I’ll see you in the library.

The phrase fronted adverbial comprises of two terms fronted and adverbial. First things first, it’s called fronted because it is placed in front of a sentence. And it’s called adverbial because it indeed is an adverbial. In short, fronted adverbials are adverbials occupying the front position in a sentence.

Note that the above sentences could have been written with the adverbials not in the front position, in which case they won’t be called fronted adverbials. Later in the post, we’ll look into reasons why then we put them in the front position.

We’re going on a field trip on Saturday.

I decided to exercise indoors because it was raining.

If you don’t know what an adverbial is, here is a brief 101 on it. You know that all English words belong to one of the eight parts of speech, adverb being one of them. But phrases and clauses too can function as an adverb: On Saturday is a phrase and Because it was raining is a clause functioning as adverb. All words, phrases, and clauses that function as an adverb in a sentence are called adverbials. What we traditionally know as adverbs are a subset of adverbials.

Adverbials happen to be the most mobile element in a sentence. They can occupy more than one position without affecting the meaning or grammatical harmony of a sentence, and hence they’re primary candidate for taking up the front slot. That’s why we’ve fronted adverbials but not fronted adjectivals or fronted nouns. (Some adjectivals such as participial phrases though can be moved to the front position.)

If you’re new to adverbials, you can do fine with just the common adverbials, covered in the next section.

Common fronted adverbials (time, place, and manner)

There are several types of adverbials (time, place, manner, reason, degree, frequency, purpose, and so on), which can be words, phrases, or clauses. Good chunk of fronted adverbials are adverbials of time, place, and manner, and hence they can be a good starting point for anyone learning fronted adverbials.

For those who are grammatically inclined, phrases overwhelm words and clauses in grabbing the pie of fronted adverbials. And within phrases, prepositional phrases dominate. Here are few examples of fronted adverbials of time, place, and manner. Note that quite a few of them are prepositional phrases.

Note: comments that go with examples are in square brackets.

1. Fronted adverbials of time

Last night, I had to work late to meet a deadline.

Few centuries into future, people will look back at these times and may probably call it golden age.

Sooner or later, we forget bad events and misfortunes even though the loss seems unbearable in the beginning.

Before criticizing, we should put ourselves in others’ situation and understand the reason behind their behaviour. [Comment: Prepositional phrase]

After couple of hours, I thought how silly it would have been to write that email. [Prepositional phrase]

In the moment of madness, I said something that I shouldn’t have. [Prepositional phrase]

Try making your own sentences with these fronted adverbials of time: on Monday, tomorrow, once upon a time, one day, that day, the other day, in the evening, later, recently, immediately, and sometimes.

2. Fronted adverbials of place

Deep in the ocean, there lived a monster that feared no one.

Downstairs, rehearsal for tomorrow’s play was going on.

On mountain top, there was a pond that never dried and was thought to be frequented by spirits. [Prepositional phrase]

In many countries, the wheels of justice move so slow that sometimes it takes decades to pronounce a judgment. [Prepositional phrase]

In Aesop’s fable, the mouse helps the lion by biting off the net in which he was trapped by the hunters. [Prepositional phrase]

Try making your own sentences with these fronted adverbials of place: far away from home, in the faraway land, in the middle of nowhere, under the bed, behind the fence, and on the terrace.

3. Fronted adverbials of manner

-ly adverbs are commonly used as fronted adverbials of manner.

Astonishingly, he blamed us for his own fault.

Hesitatingly, I raised my hand and decided to join one of the teams.

Sadly, he won’t be joining us for today’s event.

Carefully, I made my way through the wet floor.

Without a whisper, the dog slipped out with my shoe. [Prepositional phrase]

With our eyes wide open and jaws dropping, we watched the action-thriller in pin-drop silence. [Prepositional phrase]

Try making your own sentences with these fronted adverbials of manner: unbelievably, incredibly, cautiously, unfortunately, suddenly, unexpectedly, and mysteriously.

Not everything that comes in front is fronted adverbial

For a word, phrase, or clause to be fronted adverbial, it has to be an adverbial and occupy the front position. Non-adverbials may also occupy the front position followed by a comma and a complete sentence. For example, these are not fronted adverbials.

James, can you please pass that book? [Vocative, a noun, used to address people]

Facing flak on social media, the hospital came up with another advertisement on Sunday. [Present participial phrase functioning as an adjective]

Undeterred by harsh weather, he kept climbing up. [Past participial phrase functioning as an adjective]

Look, I’m not saying it’s bad to know lot of people. [Filler word]

How fronted adverbials help your writing?

Fronted adverbials add variety to your writing, make part of a sentence prominent, and bring clarity to a sentence.

1. Fronted adverbials add variety to your writing

Fronted adverbials are yet another tool to add variety to your writing. Their occasional use can change the rhythm of your writing for better. For example, the first paragraph, without a fronted adverbial, is comparatively monotonous:

Our relationship has been on a steady decline for the last few months, and I’ve been shying away from making that difficult conversation. I took the long-due step on my friend’s advice then. [Without fronted adverbial]

Our relationship has been on a steady decline for the last few months, and I’ve been shying away from making that difficult conversation. On my friend’s advice then, I took the long-due step. [With fronted adverbial]

However, don’t overdo them.

2. Fronted adverbials put spotlight on part of a sentence

Any element occupying the front position in a sentence gets the limelight. To quote Strunk and White from The Elements of Style: ‘any element in the sentence other than the subject becomes emphatic when placed first’.

We can take advantage of mobility of an adverbial to put it in the front position and make it emphatic, assuming it deserves that emphasis. Let’s take an example.

This sentence has three adverbials.

Many so-called friends who used to request the TV journalist for appearance on her TV show disappeared overnight after she quit her job.

If you want to lay emphasis on the fact that people turned away after the journalist quit her job.

After the TV journalist quit her job, many so-called friends who used to request her for appearance on her TV show disappeared overnight.

Now, the adverbial After she quit her job becomes more noticeable. You’ll now see what follows in the sentence in the light of the fronted adverbial.

But if you want to lay emphasis on the fact that all this happened overnight.

Overnight, many so-called friends who used to request the TV journalist for appearance on her TV show disappeared after she quit her job.

Sometimes shifting to the front position maybe necessary to avoid an important part of the sentence getting buried in the pile of words. In the first sentence below, for example, the purpose to increase human longevity comes much later when, on the contrary, it should get more importance. In the second, it deservedly gets prominence.

Scientists had to first unbelieve the existing dogma that every living being’s lifespan is predetermined by God to increase human longevity.

To increase human longevity, scientists had to first unbelieve the existing dogma that every living being’s lifespan is predetermined by God.

Sometimes, in stories, shifting adverbials to the front position puts spotlight on, and hence builds, drama and tension.

As the footsteps drew nearer, I took utmost care not to make slightest of movement in my hiding.

3. Fronted adverbials bring clarity to a sentence

3.1 Too many adverbials in succession

Too many adverbials in succession can make a sentence monotonous and clumsy. Look at these sentences with three adverbials in succession.

The number of internet users has grown sharply in developing countries in the last ten years.

I take stairs almost every day to reach the tenth floor in three minutes.

Shifting one of them to the front position will add variety and clarity to the sentence.

In the last ten years, the number of internet users has grown sharply in developing countries.

Almost every day, I take stairs to reach the tenth floor in three minutes.

3.2 Adverbial interrupting natural flow of a sentence

Readers want to get the message of a sentence quickly without interruption. Here is an excerpt from The Elements of Style. “The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning…. Usually, however, this objection does not hold when the order is interrupted only by a relative clause or by an expression in apposition. Nor does it hold in periodic sentences in which the interruption is a deliberately used means of creating suspense.”

You can extend this to separation of other important elements such as verb and its complement (something that completes the meaning of a verb). Here is an example of an adverbial interrupting the sentence between the verb and its complement, leaving the reader hanging for a closure.

The newcomer fired, with calmness of a still lake and finesse of a seasoned player, a goal.

What can we do to improve the above sentence? Use the interrupting adverbial in the front position.

With calmness of a still lake and finesse of a seasoned player, the newcomer fired a goal.

Here is an example from a news daily.

Sena MP Sanjay Raut alleged in his weekly column Rokthok, in party mouthpiece Saamana, that while citizens were unable to give a decent cremation to their dear ones and were disposing of the bodies in Ganga river, the ruling party indulged in religious slogans and superstition. Source

The two adverbials come in the way of the complement of the main verb alleged, thereby interrupting the message. Why not take advantage of the mobility of adverbials and get rid of the little speed bump?

In his weekly column Rokthok in party mouthpiece Saamana, Sena MP Sanjay Raut alleged that while citizens were unable to give a decent cremation to their dear ones and were disposing of the bodies in Ganga river, the ruling party indulged in religious slogans and superstition.

The two back-to-back fronted adverbials make sure that nothing comes between the verb and its complement.

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