Saturday, April 13, 2013

GrammatiCats: Linking Adverbs


I'm loving these posts, y'all, but I'm hating these post titles.  Linking adverbs.  That sounds about as fun and zesty as corrugated brochure holders or lukewarm soy paste.  If linking adverbs were a cereal, the first three ingredients would be oat bran, unbleached unbromated wheat flour, and boredom.

I'm convinced that this is why we don't pick this stuff up in school, either.  The teacher's all

and the students are all

and not a single damn is given.


I have something to tell you (about the word "however," in fact) which I believe will be relevant and useful to your writing. I will endeavor to make it succinct, interesting, and thoroughly kittylicious.

Venture forth with me, then, as we journey deep into the darkest heart of Conjunctive Adverbia.

Pinkie Rating: 4

Okay, so the first question on anyone's list is what the dickens is a linking adverb and why should I care?

Basically, we're talking about words like
These suckers are also called conjunctive adverbs or adverbial conjunctions, because they're doing two things:

1.  The job of an adverb: to modify (or essentially, tell us something about) some other part of the sentence*

*with some exceptions - nouns are adverbial kryptonite, and have to be modified by an adjective or a determiner

2.  The job of a conjunction: to join one word / phrase / clause / sentence with another

They're sort of like Reese's peanut butter cups, with ten thousand times less deliciousness.

And we probably wouldn't need to talk about them at all, except for that one ever-burning bane of the English writer's existence: where do we put a freaking comma?

So let's talk about that.

The words themselves are pretty straightforward.  Take "however", for example.

Notice how "however" launches the second sentence?  And how we could delete it and still have a complete sentence?  And how, when writing similar sentences, you probably feel a compelling, almost irresistible urge to follow up with a comma?

Yep - you're doing it right.  In this case, "however" is transitioning us from the first sentence to the second one.  A comma shows how the adverb links the two ideas, but is not an essential part of either one.

Okay, sure.  So then what do you do if your adverb is somewhere else in the sentence?

Here, the adverb's doing basically the same thing; we just stuffed it in a different place.  Notice how you can delete it and still have a complete sentence?  

The Easter Kitty mostly just vomits into the potted plants.

It's almost the same deal as before: because the adverb is an optional little pit-stop on the highway of the main sentence (called a parenthetical element), we signpost it with commas on either side, so that readers will understand that this is a detour. 

Here's a question, then: what's the problem with this one?
I really wanted my squishy ball, however, it had rolled under the fridge two weeks ago.

Yeah, exactly: if we do the delete trick here, what we get is a super run-on sentence:
I really wanted my squishy ball it had rolled under the fridge two weeks ago.
This is how you know you have a punctuation problem with a linking adverb.

Well, so how could we fix it?  (Open-blog quiz: feel free to refer back to the Joining Sentences episode.)

We could say:
I really wanted my squishy ball.  However, it had rolled under the fridge two weeks ago.

But if you want to keep it as a single sentence, our best bet is:
I really wanted my squishy ball; however, it had rolled under the fridge two weeks ago.

Last question: have you ever used a word like "however" and not felt the need for a comma?  

Yep, exactly: in this case, you can't delete 'however' without leaving a big awkward hole in the sentence.  The linking adverb is wearing its conjunction hat here - joining two ideas - but it's like the "and" in "a burger and fries" - no comma needed.

THERE.  That is what I wanted you to know about linking adverbs.  Now go pour yourself a bowl of the funnest, sugariest, most artificially-adulterated cereal you can find, for we have tussled with bran-boring adverbs and emerged triumphant!

Further reading:

Conjunctive Adverbs: Words in Endless Grammatical Angst!  Their title, not mine - I love a site with a sense of humor!
Linking Adverbs: Indicating a Relationship Between Two Clauses  Okay, so this one's not a knee-slapper, but it's got a great quiz at the bottom
The Conjunctive Adverb  A short little page covering all the bases - take special note of their "no comma needed with a weak interruption" examples at the bottom

Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!

1.  Violet, courtesy of Pamela "The Death Writer" Skjolsvik  (Check her out, A to Z'ers!)
2.  Toast, courtesy of Frank the Magnificent
3.  I don't know this kitty's name.  I know s/he lives in Singapore, and is cute as the unbelievable dickens.
4.  Smudge, courtesy of the great Dr. C!
5.  Toast and Silkie, courtesy of Frank the Magnificent
6.  Toast and Bandi, as above, because Frank rocks my world and I can't stop myself

(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat?  Sign up here!)


  1. Another lovely post, with another lot of lovely cats to illustrate it :)

    1. Haha, thanks, ma'am - I'm starting to feel like I can get away with anything, as long as there are funny cats involved!

  2. Great post. This is one instant where I sort of managed to grasp where to put the commas.

    1. It's like an ancient instinct, isn't it? Like salmon returning upstream to spawn, or gum finding its way to the underside of a desk. Way to feel the Force!

  3. Replies
    1. AWESOME CAT, Pam (and thank you kindly!) I have a feeling Violet's going to become a meme around here...!

  4. Good post. Loving the cats! You are right about getting away with anything. I think this is a lesson I do fairly well with. Placing them in mid-sentence is something I try to avoid when possible, though.

  5. I like to think of linking adverbs as 'Things Alfred Pennyworth Says All The Damn Time'.

    Here, I'll sign my name this time because this thing is weird:
    Frank the Magnificent