Asked • 06/17/19

Is there a term for the linguistic phenomenon where a word in a sentence describes the sentence itself instead of just the elements in the sentence?

I'm thinking specifically of they way words like "frankly" are sometimes used in modern English. Take the sentence: "His speech was uninhibited, unprepared, and *frankly* insulting to half of his audience." Now it could be read that here "frankly" is describing the way that the speech was insulting, saying the speech was openly and obviously insulting. However it seems another reading could be made where "frankly" is describing the tone of the sentence itself, reading almost like: "His speech was uninhibited, unprepared, and *frankly* (I am going to be frank about this) insulting to half of his audience." Is this interpretation of the sentence valid? If so, is there a term for this linguistic phenomenon? How exactly does the word "frankly" fit into this sentence (such as if you were to diagram it)?

Maran G.

Yes, both are valid interpretations. In the first, there would be no comma between “and” and “frankly” and frankly would be an adverb describing in what way the speech was insulting. For the second interpretation, set the word frankly off between commas to indicate it is a separate adverb making a comment on the sentence as a whole. I am unaware of a specific name for this phenomenon although it is used deliberately in sentences in which the speaker wants the listener to read between the lines: For example, “That was an unforgettable experience.”


3 Answers By Expert Tutors


Jamie N. answered • 08/13/19

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Denise A. answered • 07/03/19

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