Definition and Examples of Sentence Adverbs in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

sentence adverb
David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style, 3rd ed. (Guardian Books, 2010). (Getty Images)

In English grammar, a sentence adverb is a word that modifies a sentence as a whole or an entire clause within a sentence. Also known as a sentence adverbial or a disjunct.

Common sentence adverbs include actually, apparently, basically, briefly, certainly, clearly, conceivably, confidentially, curiously, evidently, fortunately, hopefully, however, ideally, incidentally, indeed, interestingly, ironically, naturally, predictably, presumably, regrettably, seriously, strangely, surprisingly, thankfully, theoretically, therefore, truthfully, ultimately, and wisely.

Examples and Observations

  • "Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today."
    (Mark Twain)
  • "Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party. Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away. Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane. Unfortunately, the motor exploded. Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane. . . ."
    (Remy Charlip, Fortunately. Aladdin, 1993)
  • "It rarely adds anything to say, 'In my opinion'—not even modesty. Naturally a sentence is only your opinion; and you are not the Pope."
    (Paul Goodman, Five Years. Brussel and Brussel, 1966)
  • "Basically my wife was immature. I'd be at home in the bath and she'd come in and sink my boats."
    (Woody Allen)
  • "Normally, I should've felt like doing what Jimmy Durante did after every successful performance: Run to the nearest phone booth, put in a nickel, dial the letters G—O—D, say 'Thanks!' and hang up."
    (Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title. Macmillan, 1971)
  • "They're plainly both skilled at concealing their real selves from the world, and they've presumably managed to keep their respective secrets from each other."
    (Michael Frayn, Spies. Faber & Faber, 2009)
  • "In the US, it isn't mandatory for bottled water manufacturers--unlike water utilities--to report violations of water quality or check for such things as E.coli. Thankfully, even if the chutzpah is hard to swallow, 40 per cent of American bottled water comes from the municipal tapwater supply anyway."
    (Rose George, "No Bottle." London Review of Books, December 18, 2014)
  • "Hopefully the boy didn't get a good look at him. And hopefully he didn't see the mosquitoes circling Mark's head or fingers as he walked away."
    (Elissa Brent Weissman, The Trouble With Mark Hopper. Dutton, 2009)
  • Hopefully
    "Innocent though they may seem, sentence adverbs can stir wild passions in grammarians. By far the likeliest to raise hackles is hopefully, which can modify verbs ('"It's my birthday, you're flush, and I'm hungry," she hinted hopefully'; hopefully tells how she said it, in a hopeful manner.) But everyone seems to prefer hopefully as a sentence adverb ('Hopefully, you'll get the hint and take me out to dinner'). Some traditionalists disparage the vogue for hopefully as a sentence adverb, calling it 'one of the ugliest changes in grammar in the twentieth century.' Others see in the demise of 'I hope that' a thoroughly modern failure to take responsibility, and even worse, a contemporary spiritual crise, in which we have ceded even our ability to hope.
    "Grammarians, get a grip. Hopefully as a sentence adverb is here to stay."
    (Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Random House, 2001)
  • Surely and Truly
    "The word surely often functions in much the same way that the disputed form of hopefully does. If one writes 'Surely you are joking' the intended meaning is not 'you are telling a joke in a manner that is sure.' This use of surely, used to qualify a statement rather than a verb, has been in use since the late fourteenth century. Truly, in the sense of emphasizing a statement ('Truly, I had no idea she was your mother'), has a similar lineage, appearing in English with regularity since the late thirteenth century."
    (Ammon Shea, Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation. Perigee, 2014)
  • Also and As Well in Canadian English
    "Only in Canadian English . . . are also and as well frequently used at the beginning of sentences as connecting adverbs to introduce the whole sentence as an additional point:
    As well, they will be responsible for emergency care.
    Also, a firm may establish a probationary period. In British and American English, as well is so seldom used in this way that it has escaped the attention of commentators. . . .
    "Also and as well are well-established connecting adverbs in every variety of Canadian writing, and Canadians who are writing for a Canadian audience need not have any qualms about using them. Canadians writing for an international audience may (or may not) want to substitute sentence adverbs with wider international acceptance, such as in addition or furthermore."
    (Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Actually
    "The single most abused and annoying sentence adverb is actually. . . . The degeneration of actually is signaled by a Doonesbury cartoon in which a Hollywood mogul, Mr. Kibbitz, instructs his young associate: 'Listen, Jason, if you're going to make it in this town, you have to start using the word "actually." A Hollywood assistant always says, "Actually, he's in a meeting," or "He's actually at lunch." "Actually" means "I'm not lying to you."'"
    (Ben Yagoda, If You See an Adjective, Kill It. Broadway Books, 2007)
  • The Lighter Side of Sentence Adverbs
    George: Now she thinks I'm one of these guys that loves her. Nobody wants to be with somebody that loves them.
    Jerry: No, people hate that.|
    George: You want to be with somebody that doesn't like you.
    Jerry: Ideally.
    (Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld in "The Face Painter." Seinfeld, May 1995)