Fronted adverbials

I was thinking of giving this post the title: ‘All you didn’t need to know about fronted adverbials‘. Let’s face it, it’s a bit of grammatical over-thinking to bring yet another lump of terminology on board an already crowded vessel in the hope that it will inspire young writers to create better prose. But it’s there, that is, it is now in the ‘grammarsphere‘, so I better get on and deal with it.

And there isn’t a better place to start than Michael Rosen’s quietly indignant piece in the Guardian on the subject of this grammatical oddity has been called an ‘afterthought on the grammar pile’.

Michael points out that for all of us over about ten years old recognising (let alone defining) a fronted adverbial is about as easy as recognising Babylonian cuneiform. And there’s more than one professional writer (see C.J Cooke’s tweet below) who would agree with him.

Why do we need to split another taxonomical hair by further isolating what has been in the language for  generations as a simple ‘adverb’ or an ‘adverbial clause’? It seems that the answer is that new generations need this type of hyper-granular dissection of language structure to be better writers.

 Fronted adverbials are a technique used in sentence structure to lay emphasis on the adverb – for example: ‘Painfully, I struggled with the need for more grammar terminology.’  As Michael Rosen points out, creating ‘mechanical’ building blocks for young writers doesn’t make for great writers. 

Just last week I was privileged to record a radio programme about writing with one of the great modern writers, Hilary Mantel. We talked about the sound and rhythm of sentences, the struggle to find the right word, the shaping of a paragraph so that it sets a scene before introducing a character, and much more. We talked for nearly an hour and we did not mention a fronted adverbial once.

However, the fronted adverbial has not only crept into grammar but is, as so many frustrated home-schooling parents now know, being taught in the school curriculum. As that is the case, English4Today has added a section for the fronted adverbial in the Online English Grammar. You can take it from there!

Anthony Hughes
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