Grammar-QuizzesAdverbialsStance Adverbs › Speech-act Adverbs

Speech-act Adverbs

Express the conditions under which something is being said

Two men talking



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.





As it were¹,





If I may say,

If I might ask,

If you must know,

If you will¹,

In brief²,

In other words²,

In truth,

Just between us,

Since you asked,



¹ figuratively speaking (See below.)

² I will summarize more simply or clearly.

³ word-for-word, (1) actually happening, without exaggeration or inaccuracy; (2) almost, just about, virtually (for the most prt)






Literally and Virtually

Express truth or near truth

Cyclist at the edge of the world

Literally True vs. Virtually True


Literally is a speech-act adverb intended to let the listener know that the information that follows (1) is true and without exaggeration; (2) may be hard to believe but is exactly as stated (3) is being emphasized.  Literally expresses a meaning of word-for-word true, without exaggeration, actually.


Jack literally had to stand on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

Jack actually had to stand on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

Jack *virtually had to stand on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

The cyclist literally was standing at the edge of a cliff with a panoramic view of the valley below.

The view literally gave us a 360º view of the surrounding valley.

The view literally made our jaws drop. (Wow!)

The climb was so difficult that our legs literally ached.

The trail ended literally at the edge of the cliff (mesa).


Virtually is a speech-act adverb intended to let the listener know that the information that follows (1) is exaggerated, not really accurate; (2) is metaphorical, figurative, an expression; (3) is being emphasized. Virtually expresses a meaning of nearly, almost, for the most part, just about.


Jack virtually had to jump on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

Jack nearly had to jump on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

Jack ~literally had to jump on the bike pedals to get up the hill.

The cyclist virtually stood at the edge of the world.


The view virtually allowed us to see half of Utah.

The view virtually took my breath away. (I couldn't breathe.)

The climb was so difficult that our legs virtually burned.

The trail ended virtually in the clouds.


* not used / ~ less preferred usage

emphasize – to stress, give importance to, draw attention to through intonation or wording

exaggeration (N) – overstating; exaggerated (Adj) – unrealistically magnified, made to look better or worse than it really is

figurative (Adj) – expressed in a way that creates a picture or an idea in the mind, but may not actually be accurate; metaphoric

literally – has been used informally (since the 19th C) to express a figurative meaning similar to virtually.

Also see Pop-Q – Literally Lay (down their lives).





If You will & As it were

Express something figuratively

Starry Night


If you will vs. As it were


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")


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.


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 (expression) — 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 (expression) — 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 text-walked 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")







► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

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)  

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)


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).

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.
  • Office worker. CC0. Accessed 30 Jul. 2018.
  • 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.


  • "BLM Winter Bucket List -19- Gooseberry Mesa National Recreation Trail, Utah, for Challenging Biking Terrain and Spectacular Views." By Iris Picat, Bureau of Land Management, Wikimedia. 20 July 2013. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Accessed 21 Apr. 2018.
  • "Starry Night." By Vincent Van Gogh.
  • "Two Men Talking." J Sevastopoulos. June 2010. Own image.





Practice 1

Just between you and me

office worker thinking




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