Commas With Sentence Adverbs

At the start of a sentence, add a comma after a sentence adverb to signal that it modifies not the word that follows but the entire sentence that follows.

At the start of a sentence, add a comma after a sentence adverb to signal that it modifies not the word that follows but the entire sentence that follows.

Sadly, current policies to address social problems are failing.

Sadly current policies to address social problems are failing.

In the middle of a sentence, it should be surrounded by commas.

Engineers are driven, generally, by technical challenges.

1. An Introduction to Sentence Adverbs

1.1 What is a Sentence Adverb?

Regular adverbs modify a single word (verb, adjective, or another adverb) of a sentence.

She did well in her test.

In the example above, the adverb "well" modifies a verb ("did").

A sentence adverb, by contrast, modifies a complete sentence or clause.

Hopefully, my wife will recover from her injuries as soon as possible.

Note that by reflecting the writer's attitude, the sentence adverb ("hopefully" in the example above) modifies the rest of the sentence and not just a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

1.2 Adverbs that can be regular or sentence adverbs

Some adverbs can be used as regular adverbs and also as sentence adverbs (although not at the same time). For example, you can use the regular adverb "honestly" to modify a word ("earned" in the example below).

John earned the money honestly.

As a sentence adverb, you can also use "honestly" to express the sincerity of a statement.

Honestly, I am not angry at all.

2. Three Types of Sentence Adverbs

Sentence adverbs can be categorized in three main groups:

  • Adverbs of opinion are used to express the attitude, judgement, or viewpoint of a person making an observation; thus, the writer reveals himself by adding a brief comment on the content of a sentence (e.g., "Sadly, she lost her lover.")
  • Adverbs that contextualize a statement (e.g., "Technically, the structure has no defects.") Other commonly used adverbs in this regard are generally, alphabetically, medically, religiously, scientifically, politically, structurally, hypothetically, economically, holistically, historically, linguistically, paradoxically, parenthetically, philosophically, sociologically, stylistically, therapeutically, etc.
  • Conjunctive adverbs help us connect two ideas or thoughts. They are one more type of adverb that can function as a sentence adverb. (e.g., "I enjoy playing tennis; however, my favorite sport is volleyball.")

3. Commas With Sentence Adverbs of Opinion

Sentence adverbs of opinion are different from regular adverbs. They apply to a sentence as a whole to reflect the attitude, opinion, view, emotion, or judgement of the speaker.

Fortunately, James changed his life for the better.

3.1 In front position

Since a sentence adverb is not attached to any particular word, it doesn’t need to be close to a particular verb, adjective, or adverb. Therefore, it is usually placed at the start of a sentence and should be followed by a comma in this case.

Unfortunately, our team didn't win the game.

Unfortunately our team didn't win the game.

The comma signals that the adverb describes not the word that follows but the whole clause or sentence that follows.

Frankly, I didn't expect him to survive.

3.2 In mid-sentence

Although sentence adverbs are often used at the beginning of a sentence, they can also appear in mid-sentence. In this position, they should be surrounded by commas to indicate that they describe the entire sentence or clause.

My daughter, hopefully, will pass the exam.

My daughter hopefully will pass the exam.

By interrupting the sentence flow, we can add our personal view or sentiment as an aside.

The girl, sadly, rejected my kiss.

Sentence adverbs in mid-sentence are particularly useful when the sentence has multiple clauses, and the sentence adverb applies to only one of them. For example:

Fortunately, John had a serious argument with her boss, but he hasn't lost her job.

Since the adverb "fortunately" does not refer to both clauses, you should rewrite the sentence to avoid confusion.

He had an argument with her boss, but, fortunately, she hasn't lost her job.

3.3 In final position

At the end of a sentence, sentence adverbs should be preceded by a comma and followed by a period.

I think that he is not the right person for the job, frankly.

In this position, they can be used as an afterthought.

She is no longer my girlfriend, sadly.

3.4 Regular Adverbs vs. Sentence Adverbs of Opinion

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, you only need to use commas with sentence adverbs.

The company is, obviously, very successful.

When using a regular adverb, however, do not use a comma to separate the adverb from the word it describes.

The car is extremely quiet during normal running.

The car is extremely, quiet during normal running.

There are exceptions to this practice of not using commas with regular verbs in mid-sentence; for example, you may need commas to signal a strong interruption, add emphasis, or create a parenthetical feel for an adverb.

He cleaned the room, meticulously, by dusting, vacuuming, and mopping the floor.

Since not every adverb at the start of a sentence is a sentence adverb, not every adverb at the beginning of a sentence needs a comma.

Suddenly she stopped texting me.

3.5 List of Sentence Adverbs of Opinion (Commas)

You can learn more about how to use commas with these sentence adverbs of opinion by following their links:

4. Commas With Adverbs that Contextualize a Statement

As mentioned above, sentence adverbs can also help us place a sentence or clause in a particular context.

Technically, her argument is questionable.

At the start of a sentence, adverbs such as technically, economically, financially, etc. should be followed by a comma.

Religiously, their beliefs should be respected.

Many of these adverbs can be followed by the word "speaking" ("scientifically speaking", "economically speaking", "technically speaking", etc.) In this case, add a comma after the introductory phrase ("financially speaking" in the example below).

Financially speaking, the company is in trouble.

Be aware that some of these sentence adverbs can also function as regular adverbs, typically in mid-sentence, to modify an individual word.

The company is financially healthy.

But use commas if the adverb is being used as a sentence adverb (even if it appears in mid-position).

My opinion, politically speaking, is that we should support a sustainable development.

Follow the same comma guidelines when using "generally", "generally speaking", or "in general" since they can also be used to contextualize a statement.

In general, happier people prefer to have more time in their lives than more money.

5. Commas With Conjunctive Adverbs

As said before, conjunctive adverbs can function as sentence adverbs. In this situation, follow with a comma a conjunctive adverb, such as therefore, moreover, indeed, by contrast, etc. at the start of a sentence.

Indonesia is experiencing a rapid growth. By contrast, other Asian economies are slowing down.

When connecting two ideas in mid-sentence, conjunctive adverbs should be surrounded by commas.

My mother wants me to read more books. I prefer, however, playing video games.

In the middle of a sentence, these adverbs can also interrupt the sentence flow rather than join two clauses or connect two ideas. In such a situation, commas are generally unnecessary if the interruption is weak.

Olivia is indeed one of my best friends.

But you can use commas to signal a strong interruption, stress a pause, or add emphasis.

She is, indeed, the most important person in my life.

Some conjunctive adverbs, such as "however" when meaning "but", always signal a strong interruption and should be enclosed by commas in mid-sentence.

This period of lower supply, however, will cause inflation.

But commas are generally unnecessary when meaning "no matter how".

They cannot achieve it however hard they try.

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