In grammar, modifiers in English are words that limit or intensify the meanings of other words. When humans write or speak, there is, oftentimes, the need to amplify or narrow down the situation being depicted. The major word class or part of speech used in achieving this is the adverb. Adverbs can modify virtually all other word classes in English, including other adverbs like themselves, and even entire sentences. In this piece, I shall discuss various kinds of errors associated with the deployment of adverbs in English, especially as heard among second-language speakers of English.
First, the expression, ‘at last’, is used when something pleasant, which one has anticipated for a while, happens. This modifying expression should be avoided in negative or unpleasant circumstances. Alternatively, one could deploy the phrase, ‘in the end’. This is because ‘in the end’ can be used in either situation — desirable or undesirable. The examples below typify the instances discussed:
He did all he could to help her get the job but, at last, she couldn’t (non-standard).
He did all he could to help her get the job but, in the end, she couldn’t (standard).
He did all he could to help her get the job but, finally, she couldn’t (standard).
At last, the brilliant scholar has been declared a professor (standard).
I have completed this research work, at last, after the difficulty of getting works to review (standard).
It is evident that the last two examples embody a positive ending; hence, the appropriateness of the expression, ‘at last’. Another oft-misrepresented adverb is ‘too’. The general reader should note that the word, ‘too’, primarily means ‘more than is needed or wanted; more than is suitable or enough’. It will, therefore, be incorrect to deploy it when one does not intend to say something is in excess, as obtainable below:
Jesus loves me too much (non-standard).
Jesus loves me so much (standard).
Doctor Bamgbose teaches English every morning; he is too intelligent (non-standard).
Doctor Bamgbose teaches English every morning; he is very intelligent (standard).
The examinations are too difficult (I cannot sit them).
The examinations are very difficult (At least, I can do them and scrape through).
Modifiers In English
Note, however, that the adverb, ‘too’, can be preceded by ‘only’ to suggest a positive meaning, as realised in the following exchange:
Speaker A: Would you like to make a donation?
Speaker B: I would be only too pleased.
Additionally, some pairs of adverbs or prepositional adverbials are used indiscriminately and inappropriately so. First up is ‘in conclusion’ and ‘conclusively’. While ‘in conclusion’, which is synonymous with ‘finally’ or ‘lastly’, introduces the last item or paragraph in a treatise, a keynote address and whatnot, ‘conclusively’ is the synonym of ‘decisively’ or ‘convincingly’.
The lawyer conclusively (convincingly) proved James’ innocence (standard).
We have settled the issue conclusively (decisively; standard). In conclusion (finally), I appreciate your efforts towards the success of this programme (standard). Conclusively, I appreciate your efforts towards the success of this programme (non-standard).
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Again, it bears emphasising that ‘several times’ should not be confused with ‘severally’. While the former means ‘a few times’, the latter is synonymous with ‘respectively’, ‘separately’ or ‘individually’.
James and John flogged Peter several times (a couple of times’; standard).
James and John flogged Peter severally (‘one at a time’; standard).
I have warned you severally to desist from using derogatory terms (non-standard).
I have warned you several times to desist from using derogatory terms (standard).
The brothers were sued severally (separately; standard).
Next, let me put the readership wise to the fact that when an emphasis is placed on ‘now’, ‘currently’ is used in British English, while ‘presently’ is permissible in American English.
Presently, there are fifty persons in my employ (American English).
Currently, there are fifty persons in my employ (British English).
Notwithstanding that, ‘presently’ can be deployed in British English to mean ‘soon’, as in:
Lola will give you constructive feedback presently (soon; standard).
Instructively, it is essential to state that some words like ‘good’ and ‘fine’ are basically adjectives, as in:
He delivered a good presentation (standard).
The weather is fine today (standard).
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In consequence, ‘good’ and ‘fine’ are deployed as adverbs only in informal settings. To err on the side of caution, therefore, it is advisable to steer clear of such adverbial usages, as illustrated hereunder:
I am doing good (non-standard).
She is doing fine (non-standard).
Instead, I would rather anyone said or wrote:
I am doing well (standard).
She is doing well (standard).
Last but not least, the readership should keep in mind that ‘of recent’ is a non-existent adverbial phrase in English. That is to say:
I have not spoken to Dennis recently (standard).
I have not spoken to Dennis lately (standard).
I have not spoken to Dennis of recent (non-standard).
I have not spoken to Dennis of late (standard).
Adverbs constitute content words in the English language, and their multifarious lexical forms make them complex to deploy sometimes. As a result, this piece has shed light on an aspect of the confusions that characterise this word class.
©2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)
Department of English,
Lagos State University