next up previous contents
Next: Lexical Semantic Resources Up: Linguistic aspects of lexical Previous: Prepositions



Adverbs represent a particularly heterogeneneous group as regards meaning and use, when compared to nouns, verbs or adjectives. Their polymorphic behaviour is manifested on the syntactic and semantic plane. Syntactically, adverbs may appear in different positions in the sentence, e.g. as: complements and modifiers of verbs, modifiers of nouns, adjectives, adverbs and clauses. (See EAGLES rapport on the syntax of adverb phrase.) Semantically, adverbs are usually treated as one-place predicates and often subclassified with respect to distinct conceptual notions:

TIME: now, sometimes, yesterday
MANNER: slowly, well
DEGREE: extremely, rather
CAUSE: consequently, therefore
MODAL: probably, evidently

In addition, they can also be classified with respect to their semantic scope e.g. speech-act modifiers, sentence modifiers, subject-oriented modifiers,VP -modifiers or other. [Par90], [Dow89], [Jac72], [].

Classification of adverbial polymorphism

Syntactic Fuction

Syntactically, adverbs can be characterized with respect to their function and scope. Adverb or adverb phrases can function as:
complements of verbs: he behaved badly
complements of prepositions: strangely enough
modifiers of verbs he run quickly
modifiers of adjectives: a very dangerous trip
modifiers of adverbs very nicely
modifiers of nouns only adults
clauses Undoubly, he was right


Adverbs may modify any layer of a clause and the main distinction can be drawn between peripheral and non-peripheral adverbs. Peripheral adverbs take a sentence core (predicate with its arguments) as their argument. The non-peripheral adverbs take a part of the logical structure as their argument. The classification of adverbs delineated below and their exemplfication is based on Van Valin's and Lappolla's description [], which follows the approach of Jackendoff [Jac76] and others.

Adverbs taking core as arguments
Peripheral temporal adverbs like yesterday, tomorrow, epistemic probably or evidential adverbs probably take the logical structure of the core as its argument:

Sam baked a cake yesterday.
yesterday' (do' (Sam, 0/) CAUSE[BECOME baked' (cake)])

The epistemic and evidential adverbs in constructions below share semantic representation with their adjectival forms which take complements:

Evidently, Sam baked a cake in the kitchen yesterday.
It is evident that Sam baked a cake in the kitchen yesterday.
Probably, Sam will bake a cake tomorrow.
It is probable that Sam will bake a cake tomorrow.

Adverbs taking a subpart of logical structure as arguments
Manner, pace and aspectual adverbs take a subpart of logical structure as arguments. Manner verbs typically modify activity logical structures.

The house shook vigorously during the earthquake.

Pace adverbs can modify any durative or dynamic logical structure. Their place in a clause can lead to different interpretations, especially with active and causative accomplisments.

The door closed slowly / the door slowly closed.

Aspectual adverbs are modifiers of the basic state or activity.

The ice melted completely / The ice completely melted.

Semantic classes

Parson [Par90] distinguishes the following subclasses of adverbs:

Speech-act modifiers The Speech-act modifiers are subcategorized as: evaluative: 'fortunately', 'happily', 'thanks to God' epistemic modal: 'perhaps', 'probably', 'certainly' conjunctive: 'therefore', 'finally', 'in conclusion' pragmatic: 'frankly', 'sincerly', 'honestly' They are interpreted as one place-predicate and thus has the efffect of producing a sentence that is used to make two assertions: a main assertion of a fact that is determined by the rest of the sentence, excluding the modifier and a second assertion stating that that fact has a certain property. They display a kind of factivity.

Fortunately, Mary arrived in time. Mary arrived in time. The fact that Mary arrived in time is fortunate.

Sentence modifiers
include the alletic modalities, the alletic readings of 'possibly', necessarily' and prepositional phrases, such as 'according to Agata' or 'in the story'. They do not produce dual assertions and they can take the scope inside other modifiers.

Subject-oriented modifiers
include adverbs such as 'willingly', 'intentionally', 'delberately'. These adverbs are characterized by Parson as factive. They can create opacity, though never never in the subject position.Rudely, she insulted everyone.

VP modifiers
include such adverbs like 'smoothly', 'wisely' as used in Mary spoke rudely. Mary invested wisely. The VP modifiers are factive and do not create opacity. they stand for properties of the underlying events or states.

modifier such as 'merely', 'only', 'just', which modify nouns, are nor discussed by Person. He focuses on VP modifiers. He observes however that temporal modifiers seen as a class cut accros the categories outlined above.

Unlike the classes of adjectives, verbs and nouns, adverbs constitute a domain of research in lexical semantics which require further investigation. It is clear that adverbs have great potential towards enhencing NLP tasks. Their selectional properties can be exploited both as keys to automatically acquire lexical information, as well as a tool for determining modal force of information to be extracted or retrieved.

next up previous contents
Next: Lexical Semantic Resources Up: Linguistic aspects of lexical Previous: Prepositions
EAGLES Central Secretariat