What is Sentence Adverb?

Before we dive into sentence adverb, let’s pictorially see where do sentence adverbs belong in the adverb family:

Sentence adverb

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In this post, we’re covering the second and third columns of the above image.

Conjuncts and disjuncts are together called sentence adverbs because they both modify an entire clause or sentence. Explore others in the adverb family:

With the context out of way, let’s dive into sentence adverbs.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, but sometimes they can modify a clause or a sentence. Such adverbs are called sentence adverbs. They come in two flavors: comment adverb and conjunctive adverb.

Note: first, adverbs in all examples have been underlined; second, comments that go with examples are in square brackets.

Comment adverb

Comment adverbs, also called disjunct adverbs, provide writer’s opinion on a clause or sentence. Example:

Unfortunately, Tom didn’t take the offer.

In this sentence, Tom isn’t unfortunate. The person writing the sentence thinks that Tom not taking the offer is unfortunate. In other words, unfortunate is writer’s view and not Tom’s situation. You can rewrite the sentence as:

The writer thinks that Tom’s decision to not take the offer is unfortunate.

Unlike a regular adverb, unfortunately isn’t modifying any word or answering any adverbial question. It is working at sentence level. More examples:

Frankly, none of this will matter in a month’s time. [Comment: The writer thinks frankly that…]

Luckily, my friend didn’t board the train that met with accident. [The writer thinks that his friend is lucky not to…]

Clearly, he doesn’t have much understanding of the topic. [The writer thinks that it’s clear that…]

Surprisingly, Tom passed this opportunity. [The writer is surprised that…]

Common comment adverbs are apparently, certainly, clearly, definitely, fortunately, frankly, happily, honestly, ironically, luckily, naturally, obviously, personally, presumably, realistically, regrettably, sadly, seriously, surely, surprisingly, technically, thankfully, theoretically, truthfully, undoubtedly, unfortunately, and wisely.

Where to place comment adverbs in a sentence?

Comment adverbs are mostly placed in front of the clause or sentence it modifies and is followed by comma.

Clearly, he doesn’t have much understanding of the topic.

Surprisingly, Tom passed this opportunity.

But they can also come in the middle or end of the sentence. In the middle, they usually follow the subject and come across as a remark or passing thought. They’re usually set off by a pair of commas.

He, clearly, doesn’t have much understanding of the topic.

Tom, surprisingly, passed this opportunity.

Comment adverbs can also occupy the end position, where they come across as an afterthought. This is a fairly uncommon position though for comment adverbs.

He doesn’t have much understanding of the topic, clearly.

Tom passed this opportunity, surprisingly.

Comment adverb vs. regular adverb

Can you tell which is comment adverb and which is regular adverb?

Recently, Tom moved to another house.

Sadly, the iconic actor passed away last night.

Recently answers the adverbial question when and modifies the verb moved. It is therefore your regular adverb. Sadly, in contrast, doesn’t answer any adverbial question or modifies any word. It expresses writer’s opinion on the sentence. It is therefore a comment adverb.

We actually don’t need a comma with regular adverbs even if they start a sentence. So, the above sentences should be:

Recently Tom moved to another house. [Regular adverb]

Sadly, the iconic actor passed away last night. [Comment adverb]

Few adverbs can function both as regular adverb and comment adverb.

Surprisingly, Tom passed this opportunity. [Comment adverb]

Tom, surprisingly, passed this opportunity. [Comment adverb]

Tom was surprisingly quick in his response. [Adverb of degree modifying adjective quick]

Honestly, I don’t think we can do it in a week. [Comment adverb]

I, honestly, don’t think we can do it in a week. [Comment adverb]

I worked my part honestly. [Adverb of manner modifying verb worked]

Disappointingly, Andrew lost in a one-sided match. [Comment adverb]

Andrew, disappointingly, lost in a one-sided match. [Comment adverb]

Andrew was disappointingly defensive in taking on his opponent. [Adverb of degree modifying adjective defensive]

An error to watch out for

What’s the problem with this sentence?

Thankfully, he survived the accident but fractured his ribs and arms. [Incorrect]

Since Thankfully modifies the entire clause, the writer is thanking Gods even for the fractured ribs and arms. The comment adverb should modify only the survival part. Now, we’ve split the clause into two, with Thankfully modifying only the first part.

Thankfully, he survived the accident, but he fractured his ribs and arms.

Conjunctive adverb

Conjunctive adverbs, also called conjunct adverbs, build logical connection between two independent clauses or sentences. Example:

You work hard, make sacrifices, and reach the level you aspired. However, your level shifts upwards now, and, guess what, you’re still not happy.

While modifying the sentence it starts, the conjunctive adverb however builds logical connection of contrast between the two sentences. Because of their connecting property, conjunctive adverbs are a common tool of coherence used by writers. More examples:

After couple of hours, I thought how silly it would have been to write that email; instead, I walked over to my colleague and resolved the issue.

If you’ve too many friends, you can’t find time to build deeper bonds with most of them. Therefore, have few but good friends.

It says that defeated enemy should be given an easy path to flee. Otherwise, he may inflict great loss in the desperate bid to save himself.

A dead fish starts rotting from head downwards. Similarly, in any organization or country, the rot sets in from the top.

Common conjunctive adverbs are accordingly, also, besides, certainly, consequently, finally, furthermore, hence, however, in addition, incidentally, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, now, otherwise, similarly, still, then, thereafter, therefore, and thus.

Find a longer list of conjunctive adverbs:

Where to place conjunctive adverbs in a sentence?

Like comment adverbs, conjunctive adverbs are mostly placed in front of the clause or sentence it modifies and, in this position, is always followed by a comma.

After couple of hours, I thought how silly it would have been to write that email; instead, I walked over to my colleague and resolved the issue.

It says that defeated enemy should be given an easy path to flee. Otherwise, he may inflict great loss in the desperate bid to save himself.

They can, however, take other positions in a sentence. Unlike in the front position though, it may or may not take a comma. If it causes interruption in the flow of a sentence, it requires comma, but if it causes only a weak interruption, it doesn’t require any. Note that a pair of commas is required if the conjunctive adverb falls in the middle and a single comma if it comes at the end.

After couple of hours, I thought how silly it would have been to write that email; I instead walked over to my colleague and resolved the issue. [Weak interruption and hence no comma]

It says that defeated enemy should be given an easy path to flee. He may otherwise inflict great loss in the desperate bid to save himself. [Weak interruption and hence no comma]

This proverb exemplifies one of the fundamentals of networking: know few but know them well. Many, however, believe in wide though shallow network.

I hadn’t yet spoken in the meeting and therefore jumped in when I got a chance. What I said was just for saying, however.

Conjunctive adverb vs. regular adverb

Can you tell which is comment adverb and which is regular adverb?

Recently, I moved to a new house.

Thereafter, I went for a walk.

Maybe they help land the first job but not much thereafter.

Let’s start with the second sentence first. What’s the earlier event after which I went for a walk? Something is missing. Remember, conjunctive adverbs build logical bridge between two sentences or clauses, and you need both to understand the complete picture. It’s a conjunctive adverb, therefore.

In contrast, the first sentence is self-contained. Since Recently is not building any logical connection with a preceding sentence, we can understand the complete picture just by this sentence. Hence, it’s a regular adverb.

The third sentence contains thereafter, which we just saw functioning as conjunctive adverb. But here, it is functioning as regular adverb because it’s not building any logical connection with another clause or sentence. The earlier event (land the first job) is mentioned in the sentence itself.

We don’t need a comma with regular adverb though. It was put on purpose to make both sentences look alike. So, the above sentences should be:

Recently I moved to a new house. [Regular adverb]

Thereafter, I went for a walk. [Conjunctive adverb]

Maybe they help land the first job but not much thereafter. [Regular adverb]

Like thereafter, few adverbs can function both as regular adverb and conjunctive adverb. Here are few examples. (Note that you need the preceding sentence as well to fully understand the sentence with conjunctive adverb.)

Thereafter, I went for a walk. [Conjunctive adverb]

I went for a walk, thereafter. [Conjunctive adverb]

Maybe they help land the first job but not much thereafter. [Regular adverb]

Otherwise, you can’t get your work done. [Conjunctive adverb]

You can’t get your work done otherwise. [Conjunctive adverb]

During the pandemic, people suffered financially or otherwise. [Regular adverb]

However, nothing much has changed here in the last ten years. [Conjunctive adverb]

Nothing much has changed here, however, in the last ten years. [Conjunctive adverb]

Nothing much has changed here in the last ten years, however. [Conjunctive adverb]

Some resign to the fact that they can’t succeed however hard they try. [Regular adverb]

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