Clearly and In All Honesty: The truth about teaching viewpoint adverbs

Recently what started as a search for a list of viewpoint adverbs led to an examination of their syntax and semantics. I began with information on websites and then went offline to read a very technical grammar reference book. The deeper I got, the more I struggled to keep all the groupings clear in my mind. As interesting as the analysis was, I began to wonder if I’d ever face the need to break the topic down in such detail for a student. For what it’s worth, here’s what I believe in teaching:

1)  Avoiding the terms adjuncts v. disjuncts, I’d explain that some adverbs are part of the main idea. They can give necessary information, for example, about time or manner. Example 1 = (adjunct, adverb of manner) Cliff spoke frankly. Frankly tells us how Cliff spoke.

Other adverbs are set off from the rest of the sentence and do not modify a single word but rather “color” the entire sentence.  Viewpoint adverbs belong to this second group. Example 2 = (disjunct, viewpoint adverb) Frankly, you can’t trust what Cliff says. Frankly is a comment on the whole idea of not being able to trust what Cliff says.

2) Viewpoint adverbs can be placed within the main idea, but are often set off by commas at the beginning or end. Examples: I honestly don’t know what to believe. / Honestly, I don’t know what to believe. When a new viewpoint adverb is learned, encourage students to note its position within a sentence. 

3) It can be helpful to learn a new viewpoint adverb by pairing it with a familiar one according to their semantic role. For example, undoubtedly expresses certainty and is similar to obviously, certainly, and surely. Show students how one can be substituted with another and note any changes in formality. Example: Eve [undoubtedly, obviously, certainly, surely] has no need for financial assistance.

4) Some viewpoint adverbs are made-up. Some speakers (at least in American English) like to create words with –wise. Example: Eve has no financial worries, but healthwise she has some troubles.

5) Sometimes in conversation the word speaking is added after viewpoint adverbs. Example: Frankly speaking, I never trusted Cliff.

6) It’s not helpful to memorize a grocery list of viewpoint adverbs. Learn them in a meaningful context, such as a scene from a movie, a line from a song, or a conversation with a neighbor. This will help solidify the syntax and semantic roles of viewpoint adverbs. 

In the next posting, I’ll offer an idea or two for meaningful practice with viewpoint adverbs.



Greenbaum, Sidney and Randolph Quirk. A Student’s Grammar of the English Language. Longman: 1990.

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