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Wikipedia states :

In grammar an adverbial is a word (an adverb) or a group of words (an adverbial phrase or an adverbial clause) that modifies or tells us something about the sentence or the verb.

I understand that an adverbial usually tells us something about the verb; I just don't know what the something about the sentence is.

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In "Confidentially, she can do better" I'm not saying that she can confidentially do better. I'm telling you confidentially that she can do better. The word confidentially doesn't modify any verb in the sentence; it modifies my telling you, if that makes any sense. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 20 '11 at 23:07

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you read further down the page in the Wikipedia article where you found your example, you'll find how adverbials modify sentences:

Types of adverbials that form sentence elements

Adverbials are typically divided into four classes:

adverbial complements (i.e. obligatory adverbial) are adverbials that render a sentence ungrammatical and meaningless if removed. John put the flowers in a vase.

adjuncts: these are part of the core meaning of the sentence, but if omitted still leave a meaningful sentence. John helped me with my homework.

conjuncts: these link two sentences together. John helped so I was, therefore, able to do my homework.

disjuncts: these make comments on the meaning of the rest of the sentence. Surprisingly, he passed all of his exams.

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I just cannot diff those two: "Surprisingly, he passed all of his exams" can also be write to "He surprisingly passed all of his exams". Those two seems all modify the verb. –  lovespring Mar 20 '11 at 15:38
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@lovespring: Did he pass the exam in a surprising manner, or is the fact that he passed his exams surprising? If it is the latter, then surprising is modifying the sentence, not the verb. –  Kosmonaut Mar 20 '11 at 20:35
    
@Kosmonaut This really helps. thank u. I think the 'surprisingly' modifies the whole thing (so could be said to modify the sentence) not just the behavior. –  lovespring Mar 22 '11 at 9:03

Certainly the adverb can modify the sentence. Unfortunately the description above is rather unclear. Hopefully, though, you see from these examples that the adverb can modify the meaning of the sentence taken as a whole, rather than the verb (the "hope" describes the whole sentence, not the way you're seeing it!). Fortunately this construction is very easy to understand and use.

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