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Speech-act Adverbs

Express the conditions under which something is being said

Frankly, it won't last



A speech-act related adverb expresses the situation or terms under which the statement is being made. The adverb does not actually relate to the information in the clause, but to something understood between listener and speaker.


Frankly, I don't think your plan will work.  Let me tell you frankly/honestly that… 

Briefly , we had to reinstall everything to make it work.  I am telling you this briefly that… / Let me say briefly that…

Confidentially, Ed is having some money problems.  I am telling you confidentially that … / Let me say confidentially…


An adverb for manner relates to content within the clause. The adverb modifies the predicate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  


He told me frankly about his problems. honestly

He spoke briefly to us about his plan. in a shortened version

He mentioned confidentially to me that he's having money problems. honestly


Also known as style stance adverbials, speech-act related adjuncts, situational adjunct, discourse markers. See Grammar Notes below.









If I might ask,

If I may say,

If you must know,

In brief,

In truth,

Just between us,

Since you asked,








Speech Act Comments

Figuratively speaking

Starry Night


As it were vs. If you will


As it were (Br-Eng) is a comment added to express that a word or phrase is being used differently from its usual meaning to give you a particular picture or idea in your mind. "as if it were so", "so to speak" "much like but not exactly".

Van Gogh's night skies were filled with stars that swirled and danced, as it were, across the canvas. ("so to speak")

Van Gogh was painting celestial storms, as it were, in the night sky.  ("for lack of better words")

Unlike other painters, Van Gogh's images leapt, as it were, from the canvas with vibrancy and color.


If you will is a comment added by a speaker to request that the listener follow the speaker's line of thinking, or to apologize for an unusual or unfortunate (corny) choice of words. "If you will allow me to use this phrase…" 

Imagine, if you will, a night sky filled with tiny little brush strokes.  ("Follow my thoughts.")

Van Gogh was a gifted artist, but he didn't have much of an ear, if you will, for music. ("pardon my pun")

He half-heartedly, if you will, ran the race. ("if you will allow me to use this phrase")


The expression is placed next to (before or after) the phrase. The expression may just as easily be omitted. The expression should not be overused, like a nervous tic.

As it were (Garner 68);  If you will (Garner 438) 

figurative (Adj) — a figurative word or phrase is used in a different way from its usual meaning, to give you a particular idea or picture in your mind

have an ear for music (expr.) — have the ability to learn music, copy sounds, appreciate sounds which are in harmony

leap, leaped or leapt (V) — to spring or jump from one place to another

not have a leg to stand on (expr.) — be without clear supporting evidence

stroke (N) — a single movement of a pen or brush when someone is writing or painting

vibrancy (N) — full of activity or energy in a way that is exciting and attractive

Word Patronage — The tendency to include a comment on one's own phrasing or wording.  (Garner 867)




to coin a phrase

"for lack of a better word"

—an aside comment that  a new word or phrase is being created either for convenience or necessity

He stopped at the street corner. When the light changed, he textwalked into the side of a car, to coin a phrase.  ("It may not be in the dictionary, but I'm using it anyway.")


"similarly, but not exactly"

—an informal aside comment that  a word or phrase is being used in a similar but not exact way

He was like on a gorilla rampage when he found out.  (very angry)

no pun intended

"note my play on words."

—an aside comment that  a word or phrase is being used as a play on words

One pirate to the another with a wooden leg, "No pun intended, but without a witness, you haven't got a leg to stand on!" 

so to speak

"in a manner of speaking"

"much like but not exactly"

—an aside comment that  a word or phrase is being used in an unusual way

We are tiny specks of dust, so to speak, in a huge cosmos.

(Pasanek "As It Were")







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Grammar Notes (Advanced)





Linguistic Descriptions


Quirk and Greenbaum refer to these words as style disjuncts: "Style disjuncts convey the speaker's comment on the style and form of what he is saying, defining in some way under what conditions he is speaking as the 'authority' for the utterance. (8.123-33) 

Style Disjunct  (a)  modality and manner (e.g.: truthfully bluntly, if I may say so); (b)  respect (e.g.: in broad terms, personally); Content Disjunct (a) degree of conditions for truth of content (e.g.: really, certainly, if he'd listened); (b) value judgment of content (e.g.: understandably, wisely, to everyone's surprise)

Huddleston and Pullum refer to these structures as clause adjuncts.  (773)
Speech-act-related adjuncts  i. Frankly, it was a waste of time.  [addressee-oriented] ; ii. Frankly, who gives a damn anyway? [speaker-oriented]
(frankly, briefly, confidentially, in brief, in all honesty, etc.)

An adjunct is an additional word, phrase, or clause that is not essential to the completion of the meaning (extra info).

Biber refers to these words as style stance adverbs. (10.3)

Stance adverbs "have the primary function of commenting on the content or style of a clause…"  They fall into three categories: (1) epistemic — It was, definitely, a waste of time. (personal belief, "truth or value of the proposition, commenting on: certainty, reality, sources, limitations and precision of the proposition."); (2) attitude —  Fortunately, it was completed on time. (expresses the speaker's attitude tor ward of evaluation of the situation); (3) style —  Frankly, it was a waste of time. (commenting on the style or form of the utterance, clarifying  how the speaker is speaking, how the utterance should be understood)


Swan refers to these words as discourse markers, specifically, "showing one's attitude to what one is saying" honestly, frankly, no doubt

Honestly, I never said a word to him about the money.   (speaking sincerely)
What do you think of my hair? Frankly, dear, it's a disaster.    (57.18)



Also see Payne 249.


Works Cited

  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Brigham Young U, 2013,
  • Garner's Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • Pasanek, Brad. "As It Were." The Mind is a Metaphor, U of Virginia, 18 Aug. 2016,
  • Payne, Thomas Edward. Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge UP, 2011.
  • Quirk, Randolph and Sidney Greenbaum. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. 7th ed., Longman Group, 1989.





Practice 1

Just between you and me




Add the speech-act adverb to the sentence. 

  1. Edit the sentence adding the adverb.
  2. Compare your edit with the feedback.


Phil: What's up?
Felix: Well, we have to make changes in the office.
ADD: briefly

Phil: What do you mean?
Felix: Some employees will be re-assigned to a new building.
ADD: in short

Phil: Who's going to have to be moved?
Felix: I can't say officially, but it's your division.
ADD: if you must know

Phil: I would like to get away from particular people here.
Felix: If I might ask, who?
ADD: frankly

Phil: The boss.  Is he being re-assigned too?
Felix:I don't know; I'd tell you if I did. 
ADD: honestly

Felix: I'm looking for a new job.
Phil: Really, where are you thinking of going?

ADD: confidentially

Felix: I don't know.  I just know it's time for a change. 
ADD: in truth

Phil: I think that's a good plan. 
Felix: Yeah. Keep it on the hush. (quiet)
ADD: just between us