We think of adverbs as modifiers, but conjunctive adverbs are a special breed. Their function is not to modify, but to connect.
A conjunctive adverb is used to create a smooth connection between two sentences or independent clauses. The conjunctive adverb shows the logical relationship between one idea and the next and thus helps to provide coherence in a written text.
Relationships shown by conjunctive adverbs
Below are some of the most common conjunctive adverbs, grouped according to the relationships they show:
- Addition: also, besides, furthermore, likewise, moreover, similarly
- Contrast: however, instead, rather, still, yet
- Emphasis: certainly, indeed, surely, truly
- Result: accordingly, consequently, otherwise, therefore
- Sequence: first, second, third; afterward, finally, lastly, later, next, then
For example, to connect two similar ideas, you can use a conjunctive adverb that shows addition:
- Alain bought two tents. He also got sleeping bags and air mattresses.
To connect two opposite ideas, you can use a conjunctive adverb that shows contrast:
- Debra was sure she had hidden her jewelry in a safe place. Still, thieves broke in and stole it during the night.
To show a cause-effect connection, you can use a conjunctive adverb showing result:
- March was unusually warm; therefore, the snow was entirely gone by month’s end.
Punctuation with a conjunctive adverb
Depending on where you place the conjunctive adverb in the sentence, you can choose one of the following punctuation patterns.
At the beginning of a clause: period or semicolon before the adverb, comma after it.
- My daughter’s ringette team won the game. Afterward, the girls celebrated with pizza and ice cream.
- You’d better fill up the tank; otherwise, we might run out of gas.
In the middle of a clause: comma before and after the adverb.
- The porch was beginning to sag. The paint, moreover, was flaking badly.
At the end of a clause: comma before the adverb, period after it.
- Critics gave the film consistently poor reviews; movie-goers loved it, however.
Note: There are some exceptions to these punctuation rules. Commas are not always necessary when a conjunctive adverb is in the middle of a clause; let your ear guide you.
Omit commas if the adverb fits smoothly into the sentence:
- It soon became too dark to go on. Jeff therefore beached the canoe and set up camp.
Use commas if the adverb interrupts the flow of the sentence:
- Kaitlin was determined to get her licence. Every evening, therefore, she practised driving for hours.
A common punctuation error
The most common error that occurs with conjunctive adverbs is a punctuation error called a comma splice (a kind of run-on). This error occurs when the writer joins two sentences with a comma and a conjunctive adverb.
- Run-on: The game was almost lost, however our team scored a goal.
Remember, a conjunctive adverb is not a conjunction. An adverb creates a weaker connection, and it must have a full stop (period or semicolon) before it when it is connecting two sentences.
- Correct: The game was almost lost. However, our team scored a goal.
- Correct: The game was almost lost; however, our team scored a goal.
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