Disjunct in Grammar

Quote example of a disjunct in grammar from Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner

David Zach / Getty Images

In English grammar, a disjunct is a type of sentence adverb that comments on the content or manner of what is being said or written. Put another way, a disjunct is a word or phrase that explicitly expresses the stance of a speaker or writer. These are also called sentence adjuncts or sentence modifiers.

Unlike adjuncts, which are integrated into the structure of a sentence or clause, disjuncts stand outside the syntactic structure of the text they are commenting on. In effect, says David Crystal, disjuncts "look down from above on a clause, making a judgment about what it is saying or how it is phrased," (Crystal, David. Making Sense of Grammar, 2004).

The two basic types of disjuncts are content disjuncts (also known as attitudinal disjuncts) and style disjuncts. The term disjunct is sometimes also applied to any of two or more items connected by the disjunctive conjunction "or."

Etymology: From the Latin "disjungere", meaning to separate.

Style Disjuncts and Content Disjuncts

"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 has no wish to help us," (Sidney Greenbaum, "Adverbial." The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1992).

Examples of Disjuncts

In the examples below, the disjuncts are italicized. See if you can identify whether each is a content or style disjunct.

  • "Without a doubt, one of the most popular and influential television shows from the 1960s is the original Star Trek series, created by Gene Roddenberry," (Kenneth Bachor, "Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Original Star Trek." Time, September 8, 2016).
  • "Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them," (Sitting Bull, Powder River Council Speech, 1875).
  • "As we've discussed, the information you brought us has been, shall we say, a bit thin. To be perfectly candid, my government feels as if we're being played," (Jeffrey S. Stephens, Targets of Opportunity, 2006).
  • "But sadly, one of the problems with being on public radio is that people tend to think you're being sincere all the time," (Ira Glass, quoted by Ana Marie Cox and Joanna Dionis in Mother Jones, September-October, 1998).
  • "Regrettably, the book is no longer in print, but copies can be found in libraries and secondhand bookshops," (Ravitch, Diane. The Language Police. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
  • “'Well, could you sleep?' the Count asked the next night upon his arrival in the cage.
    “'Quite honestly, no,' Westley replied in his normal voice," (William Goldman, The Princess Bride, 1973).
  • "Hopefully, the book will inspire readers to a wider interest in weather, atmospheric science, and earth science in general," (Keay Davidson, Twister. Pocket Books, 1996).

Hopefully and Other Controversial Commentary Disjuncts

"It's time to admit that hopefully has joined that class of introductory words (like fortunately, frankly, happily, honestly, sadly, seriously, and others) that we use not to describe a verb, which is what adverbs usually do, but to describe our attitude toward the statement that follows. ... But be aware that some sticklers still take a narrow view of hopefully. Will they ever join the crowd? One can only hope," (Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, rev. ed. Riverhead Books, 2003).

"Long before the controversial use of hopefully came along, it was possible to marshal words like 'happily,' 'fortunately,' 'foolishly,' 'cleverly,' in dual roles, as manner adverbs or disjuncts: 'He spent all his money foolishly' or 'Foolishly, he spent all his money'; 'He landed fortunately in a haystack' or 'He landed in a haystack, fortunately'; 'She did not weave all of the tapestry cleverly,' 'Cleverly, she did not weave all of the tapestry.' All the howling about 'hopefully,' all the moralizing and execration, ignored the fact that a pattern of usage already existed, and that the hated word was merely taking up an available position.

Other words of the same kind are currently being treated in the same way. One of them is 'regretfully,' which is now being used as a commentary disjunct with the meaning 'It is to be regretted that ... ' ('Regretfully, we cannot serve early morning tea'). This usage might be criticized on the grounds that we already have a perfectly adequate commentary disjunct in 'regrettably,' and that there can be no good reason for pressing an impostor into service. Users, however, are stubbornly unanswerable to the gods of good reason," (Walter Nash, An Uncommon Tongue: The Uses and Resources of English. Routledge, 1992).

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Disjunct in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/disjunct-grammar-term-1690468. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Disjunct in Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/disjunct-grammar-term-1690468 Nordquist, Richard. "Disjunct in Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/disjunct-grammar-term-1690468 (accessed May 29, 2023).