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Adverb placement in a sentence matters

By Alexander Chagema | April 6th 2020 at 08:53:05 GMT +0300

Covid-19 statistics from our Health ministry are too depressing.

Generally, the attitude of Kenyans towards the pandemic has been casual, but last week’s exponential rise in cases has compelled a sizeable number of Kenyans to sit up and take note. The point is, all is not well. We hardly know what trajectory the pandemic will take, and that is scary.

To get our minds off the grim statistics, even if just for a while, let’s refresh our understanding of the words ‘too’, ‘generally’, ‘well’ and ‘hardly’ that have been used in the introductory paragraph.

They are part of a group of words known as adverbs. Some of the reasons we are able to identify adverbs easily are; most of them end in letters ‘ly’, they modify verbs and answer the ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ questions. Some adverbs, however, do not end with letters ‘ly’.  We should also remember that there are different types of adverbs as shown below.

Adverbs of quantity are used to describe the way something is done or how it happened. They fall in the category of adverbs that end in ‘ly’. For example, ‘quickly’, ‘slowly’.

These adverbs are also indicative of the degree to which something is done, for example, “We are very worried about the direction Covid-19 will take in the next two weeks”,  “It is so bad, many are beginning to take note of the pandemic”, “It is too early to determine whether we are making any progress in combating coronavirus”.

Adverbs of focus include; ‘only’, ‘too’, ‘as well’, ‘also’, ‘even’ ‘but’, ‘alone’ and ‘exactly’. Ideally, they focus our attention on a particular part of a sentence. Note that adverbs of focus are normally placed in front of, or next to the words they seek to modify or those to which our attention should be focused.

The meaning of the sentence changes depending on where the adverb of focus is placed. For example, “Only the CS Health can allay our fears” and “CS Health can only allay our fears”.

Adverbs of Time are ‘yesterday’, ‘tomorrow’, and ‘daily’. It is advisable to place adverbs of time at the end of a sentence. For example; “Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe will give Kenyans the latest update on coronavirus today”.

Adverbs of degree include ‘too’, ‘very’, ‘extremely’. Their ideal placement is before the verb, adjective or other adverb they modify.

For example, “She is too tired to argue anymore”, “The head nurse looked extremely fatigued yesterday”. Adverbs of frequency, namely, hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly show us how often something happens.

As shown, adverbs play different roles and some have specific places within sentences where they must appear to make sense to the reader or convey the intended meaning. 

In the example given above; “Only CS Health can allay our fears” and “CS Health can only allay our fears”, the positioning of the adverb ‘only’ determines what meaning the sentence takes on.

In the first case, emphasis is on the fact that there is only one person who can put Kenyans at ease, and that is CS Health while the second emphasises that the only thing that the CS Health can do is allay our fears but would be completely useless in any other regard.

When an adverb is used to modify an adjective, its proper position is before the adjective. For example, “What we are getting from the Ministry of Health is particularly bad news”, “The recently appointed Cabinet Secretary for Health is doing a good job”.

Whenever we place adverbs at the beginning of a clause, they should be separated from the rest of the sentence by a commas. This is compulsory especially with ‘however’, ‘furthermore’, ‘in fact’, ‘moreover’, ‘therefore’, ‘nevertheless’ and ‘still’.

Middle position

For example; ‘Moreover, self-discipline is crucial to taming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic”. “Nevertheless, the government must stop trigger-happy police officers from shooting minors playing on balconies”.

Adverbs like ‘too’ can be used at the start, middle or end of a sentence; For example, “Too tired to cook, John chose to go to bed hungry”, “John was too tired to cook, so he went to bed hungry” and “As tired as he was, John didn’t take a bath, he couldn’t cook too”. When used in the middle position of a sentence, the adverb should come between the subject and the main verb.

As shown in the foregoing example “John was too tired to cook, so he went to bed hungry”, the adverb ‘too’ appears between John (subject) and cook (main verb).

Mr Chagema is a copy editor, The Standard. [email protected]


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