Sentence adverbs.

Uses of ketchup

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

There’s something wrong with some people. They get strange ideas in their heads. They make up rules that they want to force on other people.

Imagine if someone told you that ketchup was only for use on French fries. Nowhere else. And especially you can’t use it in sauces. To mix in a sauce that goes on a whole noodle dish? A gastronomical error. A sign of an ignorant culinary Neanderthal.

Actually, there are people who do make up rules like that for food. And for clothes. My point today is that some people do that for language. And it often catches on.

Pathetically, many people are suckers for fake rules. Make up a superstition some time and see how it catches on.

To start with, try on these three sentences:

In my opinion, these people need to learn more about language.

Frankly, they know much less than they think they do.

Hopefully, they will smarten up with a bit of education.

Is there something wrong with any of them?

You there, with your hand up. Yes? Which one?

The third one? Why?

Because it starts with hopefully?

Congratulations. You’re just the kind of person I was talking about. Luckily for you, you’re here with me. Pay attention and take notes.

The argument about Hopefully, they will smarten up (etc.) is that it has to mean “they will smarten up hopefully” or “they will smarten up with hope.” This is a silly line of thought. It’s also inconsistent.

Does Frankly, they know much less mean “they know much less frankly” or “they know much less in a frank manner”? No, it does not, and you are very unlikely to find anyone who says it does.

Does In my opinion, they need to learn more about language mean that they will be learning in my opinion? Or that it’s language in my opinion that they need to learn more about? Obviously not.

Honestly, this prejudice against hopefully is pure self-deception.

Stop. Look. Does that sentence just above mean that the prejudice is self-deception in an honest manner?

Here’s how it works. Adverbs are like sauces. Some people are prejudiced against all adverbs, but I’ll address that another time. It should be obvious that there isn’t a one-word verb equivalent for every verb-adverb combination.

Most typically, adverbs are like sauces for verbs. But they can sauce other things. They can sauce adjectives, for instance. Yes, that’s really true. And it should be entirely obvious. I hope you notice what I just did in the preceding two sentences. They give strikingly clear examples of what I’m talking about. There. I did it again. Really true, entirely obvious, strikingly clear. Adverb-adjective.

Adverbs can also sauce the whole sentence. They can do it two ways. They can be a sauce for the verb that’s just served up at the beginning:

Slowly, he realized that his puerile fetish fantasies were just sublimations of his desire for food.

This means he realized slowly.

But they can also be a sauce for the sentence as a whole. They express a state of mind that orients the entire utterance of the sentence. Usually this means they express the speaker’s or writer’s attitude towards what is being said.

Sadly, the realization came too late to save his marriage.

This is like the difference between putting ketchup on your french fries and putting it in a sauce that goes over the whole meal. Actually, it’s more like the difference between using a little curry powder in a sauce – “Indian” flavour for one dish – and serving a whole Indian meal, with room decorations and serving dishes Indian-style, and wearing a sari while doing it.

When you use an adverb to express an attitude towards a whole sentence, that’s called a sentence adverb.

You can also use a prepositional phrase adverbially.

He ate at high speed.

To use a prepositional phrase as a sentence adverb, it has to express your attitude or something about the flow of thought.

To my surprise, he tried everything.

On top of that, he took seconds.

Of course, he didn’t really taste any of it.

In fact, it might as well have been dog food.

In the end, his eating habits will hurt him.

You can see that that last sentence means the same as one but not the other of the two possible meanings of His eating habits will hurt him in the end. It means the same as Ultimately, his eating habits will hurt him. That actually has two kinds of meaning too: either they will hurt him at the end of his process, or it is the end of my thought process that they will hurt him. Or both, of course.

So there. You see? Some silly overgrown child came up with an idea, half a century or so ago, that there was something wrong with hopefully as a sentence adverb. This idea has become a superstition that pollutes people’s minds.

You need to know that some people have this superstition about it. If they happen to be paying you to write for them, avoid it. Otherwise, use it if it’s the right word for what you want. Feel free to use sentence adverbs. There’s nothing wrong with them.

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2 thoughts on “Sentence adverbs.

  1. […] another thing like sentence adverbs: some dumb people want to say you can’t do it. They have no good reason to say so. They’re just […]

  2. sesquiotic says:

    The AP has now given its imprimatur to hopefully: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aps-approval-of-hopefully-symbolizes-larger-debate-over-language/2012/04/17/gIQAti4zOT_story.html

    The comments on the story display the usual level of benightedness.

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