What is an adjunct?
Adjuncts are parts of a sentence that are used to elaborate on or modify other words or phrases in a sentence. Along with subjects, verbs, objects, and complements, adjuncts are one of the five main components of the structure of clauses.
A distinguishing feature of adjuncts is that their removal from sentences does not alter the grammatical integrity and meaning of the sentence. In other words, adjuncts expand on the word or phrase that they are modifying, but their presence is not needed for a sentence to function.
Nouns, adjectives, and adverbs can all be adjuncts. However, adverbial adjuncts are the most complex, so we will examine those in greater detail.
Adjuncts are usually adverbs or adverbial phrases that help modify and enrich the context of verbs in the sentence. For example, consider the following sentence:
- “She walked to the park slowly.”
In this sentence, the adjunct is the adverb slowly, which modifies the verb walked. Without this adjunct, the sentence could function on its own and still be grammatically correct. In this case, the sentence would read:
- “She walked to the park.”
There is nothing wrong with this sentence. The reader just doesn’t know at what speed she walked to the park. Here are some other examples of sentences with adverbial adjuncts in them:
- “The soccer team played the game in the rain.”
- “The bowling ball rolled quickly toward the pins.”
- “The man walks by the river often.”
In all of these sentences, the adjunct can also be removed without the sentence losing meaning or grammatical correctness.
Types of modification
Adjuncts can be used to modify words in the sentence in a variety of different ways. Typically, when adjuncts are used in a sentence, they expand on the frequency, place, time, degree, reason, or manner of the word or phrase they are modifying. Here are examples of adjuncts being used to modify all of these things:
- “Every day, the boy played basketball with his friend.”
- “The farmer plowed his field once a week.”
- “The tourists went to see the sights around the city.”
- “The lakes are beautiful in North Carolina.”
- “At 5:00 PM, the dog went to see if there was food in his bowl.”
- “The game began right after school.”
- “He jumped as high as he could.”
- “As tall as he was, he still could not reach the top cabinet.”
- “The plants grew tall because they received a lot of sunshine.”
- “She was good at math because she practiced a lot.”
- “The gazelle ran gracefully over the field.”
- “The river flowed swiftly.”
Types of adjunct phrases
As we can see in the examples above, both words and phrases can function as adjuncts, and there are several different types of phrases that can be used. Prepositional phrases, noun phrases, and adverb phrases can all be used as adverbial adjuncts.
Here are examples of each type of phrase being used as an adverbial adjunct:
- “The group went swimming at the beach.”
- “The surfer looked calm, although the wave looked huge.”
- “The grandfather will give his grandson his birthday present next month.”
Position of adjuncts
Adjuncts can occur in different sections of the clause; where they are positioned depends on the structure of the sentence. Sometimes it works better to put them into the initial position, sometimes the middle, and sometimes the final. For example, here are some sentences with adjuncts in different positions:
- “We arrived at noon.” (final position)
- “The salmon quickly swam.” (middle position)
- “In the middle of the meadow, there was a patch of daisies.” (initial position)
Sentences can also have more than one adjunct appearing in different parts of a clause. For example:
- “At the playground, the children ran quickly.”
In this sentence, both at the playground, and quickly are adjuncts. Both of these adjuncts modify the clause the children ran.
Another important note about adjuncts is that if they are placed too far away from the word or phrase they are modifying, or too near to another word or phrase, there can sometimes be confusion about what they are modifying. These are known as misplaced modifiers. For example, consider this sentence:
- “Reading books frequently improves intelligence.”
In this sentence, it is difficult to tell if frequently is modifying reading books or improving intelligence. Placing the adjunct in a better position will improve the clarity of the sentence. For example:
- “Frequently reading books improves intelligence.”
Noun Adjuncts and Adjectival Adjuncts
Adjuncts can also be nouns or adjectives. These occur so commonly, though, that they rarely need to be identified. Nevertheless, let’s look at what constitutes noun adjuncts and adjectival adjuncts.
Noun adjuncts are nouns that are used to modify other nouns. The resulting phrase is called a compound noun. For example:
- “The boy played with his toy soldier.”
In this sentence, toy is the noun adjunct, and it modifies the word soldier, creating the compound noun toy soldier. The meaning of the sentence would change if we left out toy, but the sentence would remain grammatically correct.
Noun adjuncts can also create single-word compound nouns, as in policeman, where the word police modifies the word man.
Adjectival adjuncts are just adjectives that come immediately before the noun they describe. They are more commonly referred to as attributive adjectives. They too can be removed without compromising grammatical correctness. Here is an example of an adjectival adjunct:
- “The white cat climbed onto the table.”
In this sentence, white is the adjectival adjunct, and it modifies the word cat. Again, leaving it out does not affect the grammar of the sentence. However, if we said, “The cat that is white climbed onto the table,” the adjective is no longer an adjunct because it is integral to the grammar of the sentence.