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A disjunct is a type of an adverbial adjunct which expresses information that is not considered essential to the sentence it appears in, but which is considered to be the speaker’s or writer’s own attitude towards, or the descriptive statement of, the propositional content of the sentence. A disjunct does not fit into the flow of the sentence and is often separated by a comma or a set of commas. A disjunct normally acts as an evaluation of the rest of the sentence. Although it usually modifies the verb, we could say that it modifies the entire clause, too.

The name ‘disjunct’ would seem to suggest that these have some kind of connection with (con)junctive items, but that their role is, if anything, to signal an absence of conjunction. The distinction between conjuncts (however, in addition, etc.) and disjuncts is now well established and corresponds to a broader distinction, based on the propositional view of cohesion outlined above, between text-structuring and writer’s comment, which are seen as largely unrelated. Their approach emphasizes that the scope of disjuncts is simply the sentence in which they appear (‘contributing another facet of information to a single integrated unit’) while conjuncts function between clauses or other elements (‘conjoining independent units’).

Halliday (1985/1994) prefers the terms Conjunctive Adjuncts and Modal Adjuncts; (Halliday, 1994:84) but the line of division is essentially the same. The pervasiveness of the distinction is reflected in, for example, materials for teaching English as a Foreign Language, where conjuncts are frequently taught as a separate topic as part of writing and reading skills, under headings such as ‘Signpost words’, whereas disjuncts appear with other adverbs as part of speaking skills. The difference in terminology exists in various grammars so English, thus Quirk, R. et al. in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, refer to these adverbials as disjuncts.(Quirk et al, 1985,:43) On the other hand, in Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Biber calls them stance adverbials and provides his own classification. (Biber et al, 1999:354). Here, we shall consider disjuncts and stance adverbials to be synonymous, and emphasise the difference in terminology when necessary.

Disjuncts and adjuncts

What is the difference between disjuncts on one hand and adjuncts and subjuncts on the other? Consider the adverbials in the following sentences:

  1. Sadly, you have failed the exam
  2. Mary is, in all frankness, acting very strangely.
  3. Since he made that mistake, he couldn’t be a part of the team.

We note, first of all, that it is not the form of these adverbials that makes them different from adjuncts or even from subjuncts:

  1. The student stared sadly at the professor.
  2. The witness talked in all frankness about the night of the crime.
  3. He couldn’t be a part of the team since he made that mistake.

It is not the position of the adverbials in 1, 2. and 3 either. If we moved the adverbials sadly, in all frankness and since to the end of the sentences in 4, 5. And 6 and we would leave their grammatical relations mostly unchanged and still extremely different from the grammatical relations of the adverbials in 1, 2. And 3. The adverbials in 4, 5 and 6 can be made the focus of a cleft sentence. They can also be the basis of contrast in alternative interrogation or negation; can be focused by focusing subjuncts; and can come within the scope of predication pro-forms or ellipsis and all this because of their adjunct status:

Did the student stare at the professor sadly or…?

It is in all frankness that the witness talked about the night of the crime.

However, the adverbials in the first three examples cannot undergo any of these transformations, as it would sound absurd, or require certain different interpretation:

*Did you fail the exam sadly or . . .?

*It is in all frankness that Mary is acting very strangely. . .

*It is since he made that mistake that he couldn’t be a part of the team.

(the last example could be correct only if since is perceived as a time adjunct)

When it comes to adverbials, there is a three-fold distinction that can presented informally in the following manner: adjuncts have a sentence role which is almost perfectly balanced to other sentence elements such as subject and object. Subjuncts in general have a lesser role than the other sentence elements; they are for example less independent both semantically and grammatically and in some respects are subordinate to one or other of the sentence elements. Disjuncts by the same analogy, have a superior role in comparison to the other sentence elements; they are syntactically more detached and in some respects even ‘superordinate’. Their meaning seems to extend over the sentence as a whole. We shall now examine the most important semantic roles of disjuncts in order to understand why they appear to have such a grammatical function in relation to the clauses in which they appear.

It is extremely difficult to make a completely objective utterance, and practically everything we say or write conveys the impress of our attitude. Thus, a sentence such as:

  1. Susan is cheating on her husband.

restricts assumptions about the ‘authority ‘on which the statement is made. It is highly unlikely that the speaker has actually heard Susan say, “I cheat on my husband”, but if this were the source of authority, the speaker would probably formulate the sentence such as:

  1. Susan says that she is cheating on her husband.

This might well imply that the speaker cannot himself confirm it:

  1. Susan says that she is cheating on her husband (even though I’ve seen no evidence of this).

If, he indeed, he such evidence, the sentence would be likely to be different again, both terms of the statement of the authority and the implication of the speaker’s personal view :

  1. Susan admits that she is cheating on her husband (just as I myself have suspected).

By contrast with the second and the fourth sentence, the ‘unattributed’ sentence one is likely to mean and to be interpreted as meaning:

  1. From things I have heard and seen, I claim it to be a fair and true assessment that Susan is cheating on her husband.

It need hardly be pointed out that such detailed statement is rarely made explicit, though it is worth noting that in a court of law it would be by no means unusual for the speaker of the sentence one to be obliged either to expand it to the one similar to number five or at least to acknowledge that by his statement as in 1 he intended to mean neither more nor less than 5. However, even in ordinary speech and writing, it is quite common to find some explicit indication of authority accompanying the bold statement 1, such as:

  1. I think

I gather

It seems

I tell you . . .

I tell you frankly. . .

I tell you privately . . .

I put it to you crudely. . .

I say, if you will allow me (to do so), that. . .

…Susan is cheating on her husband.

Each of the sections in the various alternate forms of the sentence 6 is an adverbial in a clause where the speaker is the subject and Susan is cheating on her husband is the object.

  1. Thus: I             tell                   you      frankly that Susan is cheating on her husband.

Subject predicate          ind. object                        dir. Object

But even the degree of authority expressed in the example 7 can be abbreviated:

Frankly, Susan is cheating on her husband.

If the sentences such as number 8 have the same meaning as 7, we speak of the adverbials as disjuncts, and it can now be seen why such adverbials have in some sense a superordinate role in relation to the sentences in which they function.

Not all disjuncts can be so straightforwardly related to adverbials in superordinate clauses. For example, the disjunct in:

Presumably, Michael has a new girlfriend.

cannot be related to:

*I tell you presumably that Michael has a new girlfriend.

On the other hand, there are possible ways of paraphrasing which will nonetheless place ‘ Michael has a new girlfriend as a clause functioning as an element in a superordinate clause, for example:

I presume that Michael has a new girlfriend.

That Michael has a new girlfriend is widely presumed.

It is widely presumed that Michael has a new girlfriend.

Classification accodring to Quirk et al.

Disjuncts can be divided into two main classes: content disjuncts and style disjuncts (which is by far the smaller class). Content disjuncts (also known as attitudinal disjuncts) make observations on the actual content of the utterance and its truth conditions. Style disjuncts convey the speaker’s comment on the style and the form of what he is saying, defining in some way under what conditions he is speaking as the ‘authority’ for the utterance.


Content – making an observation as to:

  1. Degree of conditions for the truth of content (really, certainly)
  2. The value judgment of the content (surprisingly, wisely)

Style – conveying speaker’s comment regarding:

  1. Modality and manner (thrutfully, if I may say so)
  2. Respect (in broad terms, personally)

Content disjuncts

The speaker’s comment on the content of what he is saying can be dividen into two main kinds, and these two categories are also subdivided.

Type A: Degree of truth

These disjuncts are actually a comment on the truth value of what is said. They represent the extent to which, and the conditions under which, the speaker believes that what he is saying is true. Numerous classes of hypothetical clauses on which closely reasoned discourse depends are connected to this category. Disjuncts can be realized by concessive, conditional, reason, and other adverbial clauses but here we shall concentrate on shorter realizations, mainly by adverbs. As a matter of fact, adverbs falling in type A are practically a closed class, and most of them will be cited. There are three main groups:

Group 1: These adverbs express conviction, either as a direct claim (eg: undeniably) or as an appeal to general perception (eg: evidently):

Admittedly assuredly (very formal and rarely used), allowedly (formal), certainly, decidedly (rare, formal), definitely, incontestably (rare, formal), incontrovertibly (formal), indeed, indisputably (formal), indubitably (formal), surely, unarguably (formal), undeniably, undoubtedly, unquestionably; clearly, evidently, manifestly (formal), obviously patently (formal), plainly

Group 2: These express a certain degree of doubt: allegedly, arguably, apparently, conceivably, doubtless, likely (informal), maybe (informal), most likely, perhaps, possibly, presumably, purportedly (formal), quite likely, reportedly, reputedly (formal), seemingly (formal), supposedly, very likely

Such items as perhaps and by any chance are used to politely reduce the impact and urgency of questions and conditions, or convey an apologetic tone:

Do you have a minute perhaps/by any chance?

If you (perhaps) have a minute, I could see ask you a question (perhaps).

You don’t have a minute, by any chance?

You don’t have a minute, I suppose?

Group 3: These state the judgment of the speaker regarding whether what he says is true or false. There is often a reference to the ‘reality’ or lack of ‘reality’ in what is said. Some assert the reality of what is said: actually, really, factually (rare, formal)

Several express a contrast with reality: only apparently, formally, hypothetically, ideally, nominally, oficially, ostensibly (formal), outwardly, superficially, technically, theoretically

A few claim that what is being said is true in principle: basically, essentially, fundamentally

The distinction is often a fine one between content disjuncts and viewpoint subjuncts particularly when the same formal item is involved:

Technically, our task is to recycle the waste products. [disjunct]

Technically, recycling the waste products will be easy. [subjunct; cf ‘Recycling. . . will be technically easy’]

Some further examples of Type A disjuncts:

Caren enjoyed the dinner although she has never eaten sushi before.

Since he was already late, David decided to run for it.

The team would have won the game, if Johnson had been playing.

Type B: Value judgment

This type of disjuncts conveys a meaning of evaluation of or attitude towards what is said. As with Type A, we concentrate on realization by adverbs and some of the more common items are listed below. Those with a participle base in -ing (eg: surprisingly) are the most productive class of adverbs as content disjuncts. There are two main groups.

Group 1: These express a judgment on what is being said as a whole and they normally apply the same judgment simultaneously to the subject of the clause. For example:

Rightly, the girl confessed all to the teacher. [She was right and her action was right]

With some disjuncts, as in this example, judgment is passed on whether what is said is right or wrong: correctly, incorrectly, justly, unjustly, rightly, wrongly

With others, judgment is passed on the wisdom or manner of what is described: artfully, cleverly, cunningly, foolishly, prudently, reasonably, sensibly, shrewdly, unreasonably, wisely, unwisely

Group 2: With these, the judgment carries no implication that it applies to the subject of the clause. For example:

Remarkably, the girl confessed all to the teacher. [Her action was remarkable, the speaker is not suggesting that she is remarkable}

As with this example, some items judge what is said to be strange or unexpected (and items listed are frequently followed by enough): amazingly, astonishingly, curiously, funnily (BrE), incredibly, ironically, oddly, remarkably, strangely, suspiciously, unexpectedly.

With other adverbs, what is said is judged to be appropriate or expected: appropriately, inevitably, naturally, not unnaturally, predictably, understandably

What is said is judged to cause satisfaction or the reverse: annoyingly, delightfully, disappointingly, disturbingly, pleasingly, refreshingly, regrettably

What is said is judged to be fortunate or unfortunate: fortunately, unfortunately, happily (formal), unhappily (formal), luckily, unluckily, sadly (formal), tragically

Other judgments: amusingly, conveniently, hopefully mercifully, preferably, significantly, thankfully

Some examples of Type B disjuncts:

Really, all cleaning products are the same.

Conveniently, he was at home at the time.

Julia is wisely taking a course in German.

Astonishingly, he ran into Mrs. Thompson at the theatre.

As well as by adverbs, content disjuncts of Type B are realized by prepositional phrases and clauses. For example:

To my regret, they did not make it to the shortlist.

John’s project was, to our surprise, better that Ben’s.

To the great admiration of all the onlookers, she demonstrated her karate skills and chased them off.

On paper, the Torries should have won the election, but in fact they lost.

Of course, I never thought he would become a movie star..

What is even more remarkable, she can remember everything she has ever read.

N.B.: Several adverbs with -ed participle bases imply that the view not only of the speaker but of others is being quoted: allegedly, reportedly, reputedly, supposedly. Among common formulas by which the speaker identifies such an authority, however, the following two may be mentioned: According to (Mary, the Government, the morning paper . . .), and By (their, her, his, Mary’s, the Government’s. . .) own admission.

Doubtless is not synonymous with “without doubt”. Just like no doubt, it actually implies some doubt and is synonymous with ‘very probably’. Undoubtedly, on the other hand, expresses conviction. Apparently is for most speakers equivalent to ‘it appears’ or ‘it seems’, and these do not express certainty. However, some speakers equate apparently with ‘it is evident’. Prosody and phrasal form combine to make a distinction in the degree of commitment to a statement of authority:

The show had already started, to my knowledge. [some doubt]

to my certain knowledge. [no doubt]

Admittedly and certainly imply concession as well as certainty. Concession applies still more strongly to two disjuncts which take the form of nonfinite clauses:

That said/having said that, I have to agree that there are great difficulties,

Although the latter normally obeys the subject-attachment rule, the disjunct has become so stereotyped that one often finds examples like:

Having said that, the economy seems unlikely to show marked improvement for some time.

Just as the verb see can be used for both visual and mental perception (I see [‘understand’] what you mean), so adverbs as disjuncts can be used for both types of perception. In:

Obviously, he doesn’t want us to help him.

the speaker’s conviction may well be based on what the person has said rather than anything

that has been perceived visually. On the other hand, in:

Obviously, he is in very poor health.

(it may be based largely on the person’s appearance.)

Style disjuncts such as truthfully and honestly and content disjuncts such as certainly and dejnitely alike express conviction about what is said. But the style disjuncts assert that the speaker is saying something sincerely, while the content disjuncts assert the truth of what is said.

Classification according to Biber et al.

In Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, disjuncts, or rather, stance adverbials as they call them are divided into three categories: epistemic, attitude and style. Epistemic adverbials focus on the truth value of the proposition, commenting on the such factors as certainty, reality, sources, limitations and precision of the proposition, for example: She is definitely looking at him or From my point of view, that is a terrible crime. Note similarity between this category and category marked A in the Quirk et al. classification.(Quirk et al, 1985: 314)

Attitude stance adverbials express the speaker’s attitude towards the evaluation of the content: To my surprise, she came to the party. Fortunately, everything turned out all right in the end. This category corresponds to the Quirk et al. type B content disjuncts which express value judgement. (Quirk et al, 1985:331)

Style stance adverbials convey speaker’s comment on the style or the form of an utterance, often clarifying how the speaker is speaking or hoe the utterance should be understood:  Yes, technically speaking, it is a case of abuse. Quite frankly, I am sick of everything. This category is completely the same as the one found in The Comprehensive Grammar of the English language.

The features of disjuncts/stance adverbials are described in a similar fashion: these adverbials have a scope over the entire clause, the adverbial provides a comment on the content or the style of the entire proposition, stance adverbials are said to be optional in each sentence, etc.

The category that Biber et al. call circumstance adverbials can also imply some comment on the form or style of a proposition. (Biber et al, 1999:353-355). For example, the following adverbials could be interpreted as showing the speaker’s writer’s assessment of the situation: The number of infected people changed radically. I was only asking. However, in the first example, radically is simply the speaker’s assessment of the number and in the second example, only conveys the speaker’s attitude that his asking should not be considered a very serious or obtrusive action. With stance adverbials, the situation is much different, since the author’s/speaker’s attitude or comment is much more overt. For example: Regrettably, the audience was very silent.In addition, stance adverbials are frequently distinguishable by their greated potential mobility and prosodic separation from the rest of the text.

As we previously mentioned, in Biber et al. classification epistemic and attitude stance adjuncts (Biber et al, 1999:354) correspond to Quirk’s content disjuncts, (Quirk et al, 1985:331-332) while style disjunsts/adverbials are practically the same caregory. In their classification, epistemic adverbials are said to be the most diverse category of adverbials, conveying six major caregories of meaning:

  1. Doubt and certainty: adverbials which show the speaker’s certainty or doubt about the proposition of the clause. They include both absolute judgments of certainly and indication of belief in various levels of probability. For example: No doubt, he is a great actor. That sort of gossip should certainly not be spread (expressing certainty). Maybe it is true, but maybe it isn’t. We are probably better off without him (expressing a degree of doubt)
  2. Actuality and reality: These comment on the status of the proposition as a real-life fact: In fact, I am taller that you. Women are actually superior to men in many respects. Really, in actual fact, for a fact and truly are some other examples of this category.
  3. Source of knowledge: These adverbials show the source of the information reported in the actual proposition. This category includes adverbials such as evidently, apparently, reportedly, and reputedly, and they all allude to the evidence supporting the proposition.
  4. Limitation: Epistemic adverbials can also mark a level of limitation of the proposition. Typical examples of this would be: in most cases, mainly, typically, generally, largely, in general and in most cases. Note that this type of adverbials does not correspond to Leech’s category of ontent adjuncts.
  5. Viewpoint: This type of adverbials marks the viewpoint or perspective from which the proposition is true: in our view, from our perspective, in my opinion etc. Such stance adverbials often include a possessive pronoun.
  6. Imprecision: A number of epistemic adverbials are used to show that the proposition being conveyed is in a way imprecise: like, literally, about, kind of, so to speak.

Attitude adverbials shoe the author’s attitude toward the proposition, typically conveying an evaluation, value jugdgement or an assessment of expectations: fortunately, unfortunately, surprisingly etc. These adverbials can ofted be restated in the form of a to-clause or a that-clause (It is is fortunate that…). This type of adverbials is semantically diverse as they can convey: accordance with expectation (as might be expected, inevitably, as you might guess), evaluation (conveniently, wisely, sensibly, quite rightly), judgment of importance (even more importantly) etc.

The ambiguity of disjuncts and other strustures

Certain stance adverbials can have ambiguous or even multiple functions. The most common ambiguity occurs when an item is a stance adverbial or a circumstance adverbial of extent/degree (or in some cases not an adverbial at all, but an adverb integrated into the structure of a phrase as a modifier. The adverb really is for example very difficult to analyse. Certain instances seem to have the epistemic stance meaning “In reality” or “in truth”, particularly when an adverb appears in initial and final positions:  Really, you’ve noticed my new hairstyle? I had no choice, really.

When really occurs medially, it often also has an epistemic stance meaning with prepositions that concern absolute characteristics: Was he ever really happy? We have to admit there is no proof that smoking really causes cancer.

However in medial position with gradable prepositions , determination of the meaning can be very difficult. In the following examples, really could have the stance meaning of “in reality” or it could be interpreted as intensifying a verb or an adjective with the approximate meaning “very much”: It’s really wonderful.  I’m really excited about the trip. Even the wider context cannot clarify what the writer/speaker had in mind in such cases.

Sometimes the items that appear to be stance adverbials limiting the truth of propositions could alternatively be interpreted either as adverbials of extent or of time frequency. In the following examples, mainly and largely could be interpreted to mean “to a great extent” or even “usually”, in addition to being epistemic stance adverbials: Any additional funding will depend mainly on the impact of the crisis. Black beggars are largely ignored due to their skin colour.

Stance adverbials can also have a connecting function, just like linking adverbials. The use of in fact, for example, often does not show only actuality, but also connects the proposition to the previous sentence, which it then strengthens or makes more specific : I went up and heard the jazz at the Crown last night, In fact, I was quite a busy little bee last night.

At times, the interpretation of an item as stance adverbials or as a discourse marker is not clear-cut either. Consider like in the following example: She like said that she would. Here it is very difficult to interpret like as having no particular lexical meaning (discourse marker), or as a stance adverbial showing that the proposition is being conveyed imprecisely (a hedge).

Position of disjuncts

Corpus Findings

All four registers display a preference for stance adverbials in medial positions. Relative to other registers, conversation has a higher percentage of findings of stance adverbials in final position and a lower percentage in initial position. In comparison to the other registers, news has a particularly high percentage of stance adverbials in initial position. In addition, academic prose has a very low percentage of stance adverbials in final positions.


Virtually every semantic category of stance adverbials can be placed in medial positions. Adverbials conveying likelihood, certainty and actuality are often placed before or after the operator. In this position, the adverbial emphasizes its relationship to the state or action described by the verb, or sometimes the negator not (I really don’t understand this). Stance adverbials of imprecision also commonly occur before the main verb, either following an operator, or when no operator is present, marking the predicate as imprecise (Do you sort of stay here all day long?). Markers of evidence are also often placed between the subject and the verb (They just apparently left London). Adverbials limiting the generalizability of propositions or conveying a perspective are also often placed in medial positions (This disease is generally treated with medications). Attitude adverbials also occur in medial positions, often immediately following the subject (My sister fortunately took the other plane). In addition to the range of semantic roles that can occur medially, all syntactic structures – single adverbs, adverb phrases, prepositional phrases, noun phrases, finite clauses can appear in medial position.

The higher percentage of final position in conversations, fiction and news that in academic prose corresponds largely to the more frequent use of finite comment clauses in those registers. (They are not coming, I guess). The higher percentage of initial stance adverbials in fiction, news and academic prose over conversation correspond to the use of prepositional phrases and certain attitude adverbials which are rare in conversation. For example, many of the uses of according to + noun phrase occur initially, both in news and in the other written registers. The initial placement of stance adverbials also highlights their secondary role as linking adverbials (which tend to occur in initial position). These adverbials serve to introduce a condensation of reinforcement of the previous statements, the adverbial marks not only the nature of the clause, but also its connection to the previous discourse. Finally, many of the attitude adverbials in news and academic prose are placed in initial position.

Corpus analysis

Here, we will introduce further corpus findings according to Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Biber et al. as this grammar provides the most extensive research on the topic. (Biber et al, 1999: 272-279)

  • Conversations contain by far the highest frequency of stance adverbials. Surprisingly, stance adverbials are also quite common in academic prose, while news has the lowest frequency of stance adverbials. In all four registers, epistemic adverbials are much more common than attitude or style adverbials. Style adverbials are more frequent in conversation than in other registers, while attitude adverbials are slightly more common in news and academic prose than in conversation and fiction.
  • Syntactic realization of stance adverbials: Stance adverbials can be syntactically realized as:
  • Single word adverb: They are evidently to lazy to try harder.
  • Adverbial phrase: Quite frankly, I cannot see myself with a husband and children.
  • Prepositional phrase: His presentation was, in a word, awful.
  • Noun phrase: He will, no doubt, get the promotion.
  • Finite clause: If you put it that way, then I guess you are right. Non-finite clause: Based on the studies of corpora, modals are more common in English that in French.
  • Multi-word stance adverbials are often more fixed and conventionalized than circumstance adverbials. Hence, such fixed phrases as of course and sort of can be considered single adverbs, since they function as a unit and never vary in form. In contract, the expression in fact shows a degree of variability (e.g in actual fact) and is therefore considered a prepositional phrase. Stance adverbials can also be realized as adjectival phrases, although this structure is very rare.
  • In all four registers, single adverbs account for the highest percentage of stance adverbials. Finite clauses are the second most common structural form of stance adverbials in conversation and fiction. Prepositional phrases are the second most common form in news and academic articles.
  • Single verb adverbs can be used to convey virtually every kind of stance meaning with respect to the proposition: certainty or doubt (certainly, probably), actuality or reality (actually, really), evidence (apparently, evidently), limitation (generally), imprecision (kind of, like). They can also be used as attitude adverbials(unbelievably, amazingly). Therefore, given these varied functions, it is not at all surprising that they are the most common realization of stance adverbials for all four registers. In addition, the most commonly used individual stance adverbials tend to be single adverbs.
  • The functions of prepositional phrases as stance adverb are more limited than those of single adverbs. In news and academic prose they tend to be used for functions that are less important in conversation and fiction, thus accounting for their greater use in the two expository registers. In news, prepositional phrases are often used to convey the source of information, especially with the preposition according to. Academic prose often uses prepositional phrases to qualify claims. This includes limiting the generality of a preposition (On the whole, this theory is mostly abandoned). They may also involve explicitly stating that the author’s viewpoint is being presented (These topics are, in the author’s view, the most important in the field).  On the other hand, all four of the registers use prepositional phrases in marking the actuality of prepositions, particularly with the expressions that use the nous fact (As a matter of fact, at this very moment they are conductiong the experiment). A less common use of the prepositional phrases is to show doubt or attitude fith the more informal expressions: For all I know/care.
  • With respect to the use of finite clauses, the higher percentage in conversation and fiction is due largely to the use of comment clauses. These finite clauses usually have a first person pronoun subject and no subordinator, and are used explicitly to mark a proposition as the speaker’s opinion, or to convey some level of personal dubt or certainty. When these expression are integrated into the clause structure, they usually occur as a main clause taking a that complement clause. When tey are not integrated into the clause structure, they are finfite clause stance adverbials (I think, I bet, I would say). In fiction, finite clauses are occasionally inserted to show doubt or possibility, especially with the clause who knows. In addition, conversation has finite clauses that give the evidence for the speaker’s claim. News and academic prose more commonly use comment clauses to show the sorce of information, sometimes vaguely, and sometimes specifically (it has been disclosed, X has claimed). The comment clauses it seems and it aapears also allude to some evidence supporting the proposition, although at the same time they introduce a certain level of doubt. Finally, finite clauses are used to show the recognition of audience’s knowledge or expectations (as one might expect, as you might have guessed). In news and academic prose the use of subject you in the se clauses created a more involved text, overtly attributing an attitude to the reader.
  • Adverb phrases, noun phrases and non-finite clauses have more limited functions as conveyors of stance. Adverb phrases, when they do occur, tend to be a combination of an adverb such as quite, rather or most modifying an adverb of attitude or likelihood (most likely, quite rightly). Noun phrases are uncommon as stance adverbs, with the exception of the phrase no doubt. Finally, when non-finire clauses occur as stance adverbials, they tend to be style adverbials conveying how the speaker writer is communicating (I am not sure, to tell you the truth). Noun phrases are extremely rare as content adjuncts.

Disjuncts: a syntactic overview

Clausal realizations of content disjuncts occur fairly freely with questions:

If the weather is nice, may we go for a swim?

(What is) even more interesting, did you hear her reply to that second


When realized by adverbs, however, most content disjuncts cannot appear in any position in a direct or indirect question:

*Has she fortunately heard the news?

*He asked whether, fortunately, she had heard the news.

On the other hand, most style disjuncts can be freely used in direct and indirect questions, even initially:

Frankly, has she heard the news?

They want to know whether, strictly speaking, they’re trespassing.

But even here, there are certain semantic limitations:

*Personally, is she very clever?

Most content disjuncts cannot appear with imperatives:

*Fortunately, don’t go there.

On the other hand, some style disjuncts can do so, even in the beginning of the sentence:

Seriously, talk to her about the problem.

Frankly, don’t do it.

While disjuncts can appear at almost any place in clause structure, the normal position for most disjuncts is the initial one. However, some content disjuncts of Type A1, eg: probably, possibly, and all of Type B1, eg: rightly, wisely, normally occur in the middle of the sentence.  You would have probably/certainly got lost.

If the clause is negative, the initial medial would be more usual though medial is also possible and it conveys the same meaning:

I frankly don’t care.

I don’t frankly care.

If prosodic focus is on the operator, initial medial position would be usual:

I frankly was annoyed.

Disjuncts can appear (though often with some awkwardness) in dependent finite clauses :

She was a worker who, unaccountably, had little to offer.

What, interestingly enough, scared them most was the power of love.

Though he was quite rightly accused, he acquitted in the end.

Certain content disjuncts of Type A1 expressing a degree of doubt (eg: perhaps, possibly conceivably) are marginally acceptable in direct and indirect questions, but not at the initial position. For example:  ‘Can you possibly/perhaps see go out for a moment?’ Some of Type A3 are acceptable in questions perhaps even initially, eg: basically, fundamentally, essentially, ideally. It seems that content disjuncts can appear even within a clause that is loosely attached to a question: Did he leave his wife, expecting, naturally, he would never hear from her again?

Some content disjuncts can be responses to questions or can be used as a comment on a previous utterance: usually accompanied by yes or no:

A: She has accepted the offer.

B: Very wisely. [‘They were very wise to do so’]

A: She is moving to New York.

B: Unfortunately, no. [‘It’s unfortunate that she is]

A few style disjuncts (honestly, literally, seriously, truly, truthfully) are used as verbless questions:

A: I’m going to Hawaii.

B: Seriously? [‘Were you speaking seriously when you said that?]

The content disjunct really is commonly used in this way:

A : I’m going to Hawaii.

B: Really? [‘Is that so?’]

A particular intonation contour is not obligatory, but certain adverbials have a characteristic intonation when used as responses; for example, following “I hear you may be pregnant”, one  might reply with one of the following: Certainly, quite, yes indeed, absolutely, well possibly, quite so, rather (old-fashioned), hardly.

Most disjuncts can be modified. Common premodifiers are very and quite. For some content disjuncts of Type B2, the postmodifier enough is common, particularly for those evaluating the communication as odd (bizarrely, curiously, eerily, funnily, oddly, strangely):

Oddly enough, we haven’t heard from them again.

Several content disjuncts can be premodified by not, in particular surprisingly, and some with negative prefixes (unexpectedly, unreasonably, unusually, unwisely):

Not surprisingly, she called the police

Not unreasonably, he ran away.

Other common premodifiers include (in intensifier use) more, most, less, least:

More personally, how is your relationship with your parents?

More amusingly than wisely, she decided to stick to her arguments.

Most unexpectedly, we have learned that he was a spy..

Content disjuncts with -ed participle bases (eg: undoubtedly, allegedly) cannot usually be modified; However: most assuredly, nrost decidedly, most unexpectedly.  Enough as a modifier of disjuncts does not so much intensify as draw attention to the meaning of the item. Thus, oddly enough is paraphrasable by ‘odd though it may seem’.

Negation of the disjunct can co-occur with clause negation:

Not surprisingly, they were not happy with their results.

When the semantic relations of condition, concession, reason, and result are realized by clauses, the adverbials concerned are normally content disjuncts. For example :

Unless you are a U.S. citizen, you cannot vote.

Although she is very smart, she doesn’t have very good grades..

He went on defending her, so that in the end I admitted he had been right all along..

Along with result disjuncts, we may consider the somewhat vaguer ‘outcome’ disjuncts, often realized by nonfinite (to) clauses:

Laura walked for miles, (only) to find that she could have taken a bus.

Contrast the superficially similar purpose adjunct:

Laura walked for miles, (only) to find that she could have taken a bus.

It was (only) to see the fortress, that Laura walked for miles.

As distinct from because-clauses, which indicate a cause or reason so essential that they are integrated into the sentence as adjuncts, non-temporal since clauses have a looser relation, more resembling nonrestrictive relative clauses, and they function grammatically as disjuncts:

It is because he are lazy that he is unemployed. *It is since he is lazy that he is unemployed.

A contingency relationship can be expressed by a content disjunct in the form of a verbless or nonfinite clause introduced by with(out):

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

With so much people around, I couldn’t see a thing.

A specification of range can be added for content disjuncts of Type B2 normally a prepositional phrase introduced by for:

Luckily for his family, he had an insurance. (His family was lucky that he had…)

For his family specifies that luckily is not to be generalized, but applies specifically to them.

Specification can also be made by from X’s point of view, or from the point of view of X:

Understandably enough from his point of view, Mark doesn’t want to have anything to do with his biological mother.

An equivalent effect is obtained in prepositional phrases as content disjuncts, where the range is specified by the genitive or of-construction. Compare:

Annoyingly for us/To our annoyance/To the annoyance of us all, the trip has been postponed.

Also: to my regret, to her displeasure, to their disappointment, to John’s surprise, to the delight of allpresent. Adverbs of Type B2 with participle base in -ing (eg: annoyingly) generally have a corresponding prepositional phrase in this form. The prepositional phrases are indeed more commonly used than the adverbs. We can achieve the same effect by sentential relative clauses  eg: which annoyed us or which we regret; or by comment clauses eg: what delighted us all or what disappoints us.

Surprisingly and its synonyms can take a for-specification only if it refers to a noun or pronoun co-referential with a, noun phrase later in the clause; even so, such examples as the following are unusual:

Surprisingly for him [i.e. for George], the task was difficult.

Surprisingly for him [i.e. for George], George did not complete the task.

Surprisingly for his father, George did not complete the task.

Contrast the last sentence with: Annoyingly for his father, George did not complete the task.

Whereas surprisingly for him means others are surprised about him, annoyingly for his father means his father is annoyed. This distinction does not apply to the corresponding prepositional phrases. To my surprise is equivalent to ‘I am (or ‘was’) surprised’. Corresponding sentential relative clauses can be found for content disjuncts in all groups having corresponding clauses of the form ‘it is adj that. . .’except Type A1:

Certainly/obviously/understandably/wisely Mark doesn’t want to have anything to do with his biological mother. Mark doesn’t want to have anything to do with his biological mother, which was certain/obvious/understandable/wise.

On the other hand, all have corresponding comment clauses, though often a modifier such as very or more is required. Hence, we can have: What was even wiser/more certain/more obvious, he didn’t speak at the meeting.

Adverbs of content Type B2 that express an opinion as to whether what is said is fortunate or not (eg: fortunately, 1uckily) allow the interpretation that the referent of the subject is fortunate or the opposite. But this is not an essential implication of their use. For example: Fortunately, Tom keeps all his money in a savings account.  It does not necessarily mean that Tom is fortunate, though out of context this sentence conveys that implication strongly. But we can add to the sentence in such a way as to make it clear that it is someone else that is fortunate: Fortunately, Tom keeps all his money in a savings account. His wife was therefore able to support herself and the children after his death. From this context, it is clear that it is his wife who is fortunate. Compare also: fortunately for me, [‘I am fortunate that’] Tom keeps all his money in a savings account.. By contrast, adverbs of type (B1), such as rightly or wisely, do not allow for prepositional phrases specifying the range of the adverb.


Content disjuncts are a category that has been approached in different ways. All researchers agree that this type of adverbials practically modifies the entire clause and is relatively independent from it. However, there are slight differences regarding the classification. Some researchers went for a small number of more general categories, while others preferred to create smaller, but more precisely described categories. Despite the difference in terminology, the results of corpus research are generally the same. They provided valuable additional findings regarding the occurrence of different types of disjuncts in the four basic registers, their semantic roles, syntactic functions and the position in the clause.

We have also argued in this paper that coherence in text can only be adequately understood if the concept of propositional coherence is complemented by that of evaluative coherence, and that, amongst other things, this involves recognition of the conjunctive function of disjuncts. It must be emphasized that the present study is intended to be exploratory rather than definitive. For example, we have deliberately restricted ourselves to an examination of disjuncts in initial position.

When disjuncts appear in non-initial positions, other factors affecting their function seem to come into play; and we prefer to build up a clearer picture of the cases where comparison with other types of conjunction is more straightforward before extending the analysis to even more complex cases. In addition, the types of conjunction that we have discussed above have, for obvious exemplificatory reasons, been mostly those where the signalling role of the disjuncts seems indisputable; but there are still a large number of less clear-cut examples in our data. As we have argued in 2.5 above, we believe that this is mainly because our present understanding of conjunction needs to be refined.


  1. Greenbaum, S. and R. Quirk (1990) A Student’s Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman
  2. Quirk, R. et al. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman
  3. Biber, D. et al. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, London: Longman

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