We regularly use fronted adverbials when we write and we see them every day. What we normally don’t see is the term itself.
Writers employ fronted adverbials to help set the tone for the action in a sentence. It’s just that we normally don’t think about what you’d call the little device. So a term like that sounds a little complicated.
Adverbs, as you probably remember from elementary school, modify verbs and other modifiers. Consider this sentence:
He took the envelope.
There’s no adverb here. He is the subject, took is the verb and the envelope is the object. You can add an adverb — let’s choose nervously — in more than one place:
He nervously took the envelope.
He took the envelope nervously.
Both add an air of mystery to the sentence. We want to know why he’s nervous. As readers, we hope we’ll find out soon! But as writers, we’d like to hope that the little adverb might make the reader keep reading.
A fronted adverbial places the adverb, as you might suspect, up front. It would look like this:
Nervously, he took the envelope.
See how easy that is?
Why use fronted adverbials?
Despite the intimidating name, when you place a word or phrase that acts as an adverb before everything else, you can provide information that is important sooner. You can change the tone of the sentence.
The website Twinkl tells us this:
They are best used when the specific place, time, or manner in which an action took place might be of interest or importance to the reader.
In creative writing, they can be used to give us clues about a character’s feelings or personality.
The website PlanBee offers lists of fronted adverbials that describe the when, how and when in a sentence.
Don’t get too excited, though
Simple, right? Now that you know what fronted adverbials are, there’s a reason not to run wild with them. Remember that some writers, including horror master Stephen King, don’t particularly find adverbs to be a good thing.
In his On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, King says this about adverbs:
I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.
King is not along in his impatience with the little modifiers. Use them sparingly.
But when you use them, make sure there’s a valid reason to use them that gives information that isn’t already obvious.
When you decide to front the adverb, make sure the information you’re adding up front makes a difference and is there for a reason.
And be sure to watch for those pesky dandelions getting out of control!