Sentence Adverbs

The 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style will arrive any day now! We’ve been looking at some of the changes and new material in the new edition. This week, we take a look at sentence adverbs.

The 16th edition of CMOS noted that adverbs can qualify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a conjunction, or a clause. A new section in CMOS 17 (5.157) explains that adverbs that modify a clause (or sentence) are called sentence adverbs. Sentence adverbs most commonly indicate doubt or emphasize a statement’s certainty. Some common examples are maybe, possibly, and however.

{fortunately, we’ve had rain this week}
{undoubtedly he drove his car to the depot}

One sentence adverb that is popularly considered ungrammatical is hopefully:

{hopefully, the rain will end soon}

Although hopefully is just as grammatical as other sentence adverbs, it can cause problems if the context is ambiguous, in which case it’s best to rephrase:

Ambiguous
{hopefully he will enter the lottery}

Clear
{I hope he will enter the lottery}
{he will enter the lottery hopefully}

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3 thoughts on “Sentence Adverbs

  1. Why is there no comma after “undoubtedly” and the SECOND instance of “hopefully” in the example sentences, while there is a comma after “fortunately” and the FIRST instance of “hopefully”? Aren’t the words being used in the same way in each of the four instances (i.e., a sentence adverb should be followed by a comma)?

    • Thanks for noticing! A comma is optional after a sentence adverb, and the examples illustrate that. In the “ambiguous” example of “hopefully,” a comma would have lessened the ambiguity and weakened the example.

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