85. Preposition Phrases & Corresponding Adverbs

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Equiv

Some English adverbs can be replaced by a preposition phrase and some cannot

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ADVERBS VERSUS PREPOSITION PHRASES IN ENGLISH

Preposition phrases tend to act in English like either adjectives or adverbs (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions). Sometimes, the kind that act like an adverb can even replace one without much apparent change of meaning. Consider the adverbs (underlined) in the following:

(a) Trained athletes can easily run 10 km.

(b) Punishment is for crimes committed deliberately.

Preposition phrases corresponding to these underlined adverbs are with ease and on purpose. The first contains a word spelt similarly to the adverb (ease), the second another. The only difference involved in using preposition phrases like this seems to be a greater need to place them at the end of the sentence.

Two questions raised by equivalences like the above are how widespread they are in English, and when one of the choices is preferable to the other. In relation to the second, if English were like Spanish, we might answer that the preposition phrase was. According to my Spanish grammar book¹, Overuse of adverbs in -mente is considered clumsy in Spanish. In order to avoid this, use … (preposition) phrases.

In English, however, there are at least three reasons why preposition phrases may not be especially preferable to adverbs: (1) the main adverb ending (-ly) is shorter than in Spanish (making it useful when space is tight – see 158. Abbreviated Sentences); (2) sentence position seems to be a factor: the middle of a sentence may make some adverbs, like easily in (a), much more desirable than preposition phrases; and (3) there may not be such a strong parallelism between adverbs and preposition phrases: many adverbs seem to have no corresponding preposition phrase, and vice versa. In (a), for example, change easily run 10 km to speak loudly, and the adverb would be the norm (with loudness would be very unlikely).

This last point is perhaps the most important. It means that, in order to make the right choices between single adverbs and preposition phrases, one must have a good knowledge of adverbs lacking a partner preposition phrase, preposition phrases lacking a partner adverb, and interchangeable pairs. This post looks at all of these areas.

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ADVERBS WITH A CORRESPONDING PREPOSITION PHRASE

As mentioned above, not all preposition phrases that correspond to an adverb contain a word spelt similarly to that adverb. However, most seemingly do. This section looks first at these, and then at the smaller number, like on purpose, where there is no similarity to the adverb spelling.

The main problem with similar-spelling preposition phrases is variability of the preposition. It seems to be determined sometimes by the kind of adverb that the phrase corresponds to and sometimes simply by the next word (in the manner considered in the Guinlist post 111. Words with Their Own Preposition). The classification below is based on the different preposition possibilities. Note that some preposition phrases resembling an adverb are excluded because they actually correspond to an adjective instead. This is the case, for example, with in danger, which tends to mean endangered rather than dangerously.

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Adverbs Whose Equivalent Phrases Contain A Similarly-Spelt Word

1. Preposition Phrases with “with”

This category seems especially large, so that the examples can only be a small sample. Most seem to express the “manner” meaning of “how” (see 73. Saying How with “By” and “With“).

Note that some of the preposition phrases have to include the word great, and so can only replace the adverb when the meaning of very is present. Others express only one of various meanings of the adverb. For example, with clarity can replace clearly when it means “in an easily understood way” (as in speaks clearly) but not when it means “obviously” (as in is clearly wrong).

ATTENTIVELY/WITH ATTENTION

CAREFULLY/WITH CARE

CERTAINLY/WITH CERTAINTY

COURTEOUSLY/WITH COURTESY

CLEARLY/WITH CLARITY

EASILY/WITH EASE

EFFECTIVELY/WITH GREAT EFFECTIVENESS

EFFICIENTLY/WITH GREAT EFFICIENCY

ENTHUSIASTICALLY/WITH ENTHUSIASM

EXACTLY/WITH EXACTNESS

FORMALLY/WITH FORMALITY

FREELY/WITH FREEDOM

FREQUENTLY/WITH GREAT FREQUENCY

INTELLIGENTLY/WITH INTELLIGENCE

REGULARLY/WITH REGULARITY

RAPIDLY/WITH GREAT RAPIDITY

REGRETTABLY/WITH REGRET

RUDELY/WITH GREAT RUDENESS

SEVERELY/WITH SEVERITY

STUPIDLY/WITH STUPIDITY

URGENTLY/WITH URGENCY

VIGOROUSLY/WITH VIGOUR

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2. Preposition Phrases with “in”

A wider variety of adverbs is found in this category, including some, like briefly, that can comment on the whole sentence (see 121. Sentence-Spanning Adverbs), some, like additionally, that can act as connectors (see 40. Conjunctions versus Connectors) and some, like essentially, that show “hedging” (see 95. Hedging 1 and 96. Hedging 2). An interesting feature is the use in some cases (marked *) of an adjective instead of a noun after the preposition.

ABUNDANTLY/IN ABUNDANCE

ADDITIONALLY/IN ADDITION

ANGRILY/IN ANGER

*BRIEFLY/IN BRIEF

COMPARATIVELY/IN COMPARISON

CONSEQUENTLY/IN CONSEQUENCE

DEEPLY/IN DEPTH

EFFECTIVELY/IN EFFECT

ERRONEOUSLY/IN ERROR

ESSENTIALLY/IN ESSENCE

FIRSTLY/IN THE FIRST PLACE

*FULLY/IN FULL

*GENERALLY/IN GENERAL

HASTILY/IN HASTE

*MAINLY/IN THE MAIN

*PARTICULARLY/IN PARTICULAR

PARTLY/IN PART

*PRIVATELY/IN PRIVATE

PROBABLY/IN ALL PROBABILITY

*PUBLICLY/IN PUBLIC

SEQUENTIALLY/IN SEQUENCE

SIMILARLY/IN A SIMILAR WAY (or VEIN)

THEORETICALLY/IN THEORY

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3. Preposition Phrases with “without”

AIMLESSLY/WITHOUT AN(Y) AIM

BLAMELESSLY/WITHOUT BLAME

CEASELESSLY/WITHOUT CEASE

ENDLESSLY/WITHOUT END

HARMLESSLY/WITHOUT HARM

INCONSIDERATELY/WITHOUT CONSIDERATION

PAINLESSLY/WITHOUT PAIN

PITILESSLY/WITHOUT PITY

THOUGHTLESSLY/WITHOUT THOUGHT

UNASSISTED/WITHOUT ASSISTANCE

UNFAILINGLY/WITHOUT FAIL

UNHESITATINGLY/WITHOUT HESITATION

UNQUESTIONABLY/WITHOUT QUESTION

UNSUCCESSFULLY/WITHOUT SUCCESS

UNTHINKINGLY/WITHOUT THINKING

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4. Preposition Phrases with “to”

APPARENTLY/TO ALL APPEARANCES

EFFECTIVELY/TO GREAT EFFECT

EXCESSIVELY/TO EXCESS

PERFECTLY/TO PERFECTION

SATISFACTORILY/TO (SOMEONE’S) SATISFACTION

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5. Preposition Phrases with “on”

IMPULSIVELY/ON (AN) IMPULSE

INSTINCTIVELY/ON (or BY) INSTINCT

OCCASIONALLY/ON OCCASION

PURPOSELY/ON PURPOSE

A point to note here is that ON THE WHOLE and WHOLLY are not the same. They mean respectively “mostly” and “completely”.

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6. Preposition Phrases with “by”

ACCIDENTALLY/BY ACCIDENT

COINCIDENTALLY/BY COINCIDENCE

COMPARATIVELY/BY COMPARISON

INSTINCTIVELY/BY (or ON) INSTINCT

REPUTEDLY/BY REPUTE (also BY ALL ACCOUNTS)

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7. Preposition Phrases with “at”

LENGTHILY/AT LENGTH

MOMENTARILY (AmE)/AT THE MOMENT

PRESENTLY (AmE)/AT PRESENT

RANDOMLY/AT RANDOM

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8. Other

 

CERTAINLY/FOR CERTAIN

LATELY/OF LATE

NECESSARILY/OF NECESSITY

SURELY/FOR SURE

UNBELIEVABLY/BEYOND BELIEF

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 Adverbs whose Equivalent Phrases Contain No Similarly-Spelt Word

Some adverbs (I am not sure how many!) can be paraphrased by a preposition phrase based on a different word altogether. You have to be careful, though, that the paraphrase is a true one. For example, at the moment and now are not proper synonyms (see 157. Tricky Word Contrasts 5, #2). Possible equivalences are:

BASICALLY/IN ESSENCE

DELIBERATELY/ON PURPOSE

ESPECIALLY/ABOVE ALL

GRADUALLY/BY DEGREES

VERY HARD/WITH ALL (ONE’S) MIGHT

INITIALLY/AT THE BEGINNING or AT FIRST

OUTWARDLY/ON THE OUTSIDE

PERMANENTLY/FOR GOOD

VERY PROBABLY/IN ALL LIKELIHOOD

PUNCTUALLY/ON TIME

QUICKLY/AT SPEED or WITHOUT DELAY

RECKLESSLY/WITHOUT FEAR

SOLITARILY/BY -SELF

SOMETIMES/AT TIMES (or FROM TIME TO TIME)

SUPERFICIALLY/ON THE SURFACE (or AT FIRST SIGHT)

TOGETHER/IN TANDEM

TOTALLY/IN EVERY WAY

USUALLY/ON THE WHOLE

VIRTUALLY (or PRACTICALLY)/TO ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES

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ADVERBS WITH NO EQUIVALENT PREPOSITION PHRASE

The main value of looking at adverbs like this is that it warns against thinking every adverb has an equivalent preposition phrase. The following adverbs are just a few of those that do not seem to have one (or make one only with in a … way):

ARGUABLY, COMPLETELY, CONVINCINGLY, COMPARATIVELY, CORRECTLY, DANGEROUSLY, DEFINITELY, EARLY, INADEQUATELY, LABORIOUSLY, LASTLY, LUCKILY, MAXIMALLY, NOTICEABLY, POWERFULLY, RARELY, READILY, SCARCELY, SUBSEQUENTLY, TYPICALLY, UNNECESSARILY, UNAVOIDABLY, VISIBLY, WEAKLY, WHOLLY, WIDELY.
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PREPOSITION PHRASES WITH NO EQUIVALENT ADVERB

There are a huge number of phrases like this – hardly surprisingly when the number of possible preposition phrases in English is almost infinite. There are two types of phrases, however, that it may be useful to list. One is phrases involving a -ly adjective, such as lovely, seemly and ugly (for a fuller list see 120. Six Things to Know about Adverbs). Adjectives of this kind cannot be made into adverbs with -ly because they already have this ending, and as a result they form preposition phrases with the words in a … way (or manner or fashion).

The other group of list-worthy phrases with no adverb equivalent is fixed preposition phrases – so-called “collocations” (see 111.Words with their Own Preposition, and also an explanation available on the Learning Materials page of this blog). What is interesting about them is that their not having an equivalent adverb seems somewhat surprising when so many other fixed preposition phrases do seem to have one. The following phrases seem especially worth noting:

AT ANY RATE, AT INTERVALS, AT LAST, AT LEAST, AT THE MOST, AT WILL, IN ANSWER, IN BURSTS, IN CONTRAST, IN CONCLUSION, IN DETAIL, IN UNISON, IN STAGES, IN SUM, IN THE END, IN (GOOD) TIME, IN TOTAL, IN TURN, ON AVERAGE, TO A DEGREE, TO NO AVAIL, TO SOME EXTENT, UNDER PRESSURE, WITH DIFFICULTY, WITH INTEREST, WITH RELISH, WITHOUT HINDRANCE.

Some of these are a common source of error in writing.

(i) At last does not mean the same as lastly. It introduces not the last item in a list but a long-awaited desirable event, e.g. At last the war ended (see 20. Problem Connectors, #7).

(ii) In conclusion does not mean the same as conclusively. This latter, rather than introducing a conclusion, means “removing all doubt”.

(iii) In the end needs to be distinguished from at the end and at last (see 157. Tricky Word Contrasts 5, #7).

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¹Kattan-Ibarra, J. & Hawkins, A.  (2003).  Spanish Grammar in Context.  London, Arnold.

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