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I have a sentence that begins with the word "today" and a sentence that begins with "frankly." My style guide says to add commas after introductory adverbs when they modify the entire clause after it, but I'm having trouble deciding when it does. Let me use "today" in a sentence.

"Today she didn't have time to visit her grandfather."

In that sentence, I am told that "today" doesn't modify the entire clause; I think otherwise. Isn't "today" technically modifying the entire clause? I'm not sure, and that's what I need help with. What are some clues to help determine if an introductory word modifying the entire clause after it?

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    Your style guide is probably innocent of actual grammar. Most of them are. In the sentence you give, today clearly has the entire sentence as its scope -- today she didn't have enough time, and as a result today she didn't visit her grandfather. Frankly is a completely different phenomenon; it comments on the speaker's context for the sentence instead of the content of the sentence. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn means he doesn't give a damn, and he's being frank about saying so. There's no modification involved; it's pragmatic, not syntactic. – John Lawler Nov 13 '16 at 0:53
  • It doesn't really modify the clause. I think it would be more accurate to say that it provides context. A clearer example: "In a world where carrots are nothing but food, Rob Schneider plays the role of a disenfranchised carrot." The bolded part provides context; rather than modify Rob Schneider's acting performance. – Flater Jul 27 '17 at 11:11
  • Why d'you think "Today…" modifies anything, ever? she didn't…" isn't quite the same as have time to visit her grandfather." In that sentence, I am told that "today" doesn't modify the entire clause; I think otherwise. Isn't "today" technically modifying the entire clause? I'm not sure, and that's what I need help with. What are some clues to help determine if an introductory word modifying the entire clause after it? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 3 '18 at 20:49
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Introductory adverbs usually modify the entire sentence.

In your example ”Today she didn't have time to visit her grandfather" clearly does modify the entire clause… else, substituting ”in the past year or three” would spoil the grammar. Also, there should be a comma in “Today, she…”.

Further, while “frankly” and “today” are clearly very different semantically they play exactly the same part, grammatically.

Please also note that “modify the entire clause after it…” should at worst be “modify the entire clause after them…” and prolly “modify the entire clause following…”

The single most obvious clue to determining whether an introductory word modifies the entire clause following is simply to replace that word. Try either another example of the same, or any example of a different part of speech

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When you place an adverb at the end of a sentence, the adverb modifies the whole sentence.

If you move the adverb to the beginning for emphasis, you add a comma after the adverb.

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    OPs (questioners) often find examples and illustrations helpful. For example, giving the OP a couple sentences, one correct and one incorrect, is often a good idea. By the way, there are times when a modifier does NOT require a comma after it, as in the highlighted sentence in the OP's question (viz., "Today she didn't have time . . .). – rhetorician Apr 27 '17 at 17:29

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