Common Topic

Modifiers for Verbs (Adverbials)

Keywords: modifiers, adverbs, prepositions, chaining, mood, modal

This article, Modifiers for Verbs (naz hulta keulca) is the second in a two part series on the grammar of modifiers, the first being Modifiers for Nouns (attached). It deals essentially with adverbs and adverbial phrases. According to the grammatical ideology of Common, modifiers are just modifiers, not distinctly adjectives or adverbs, and they may be freely zero-derived between noun modifiers (adjectives and prepositions) and verb modifiers (adverbs and prepositions). However, while zero-derivation is actually very prevalent in the modifier class between modifiers for nouns and modifiers for verbs, there are a number of very important differences.


Here are some of the major differences between modifiers on verbs as opposed to nouns:

  1. There is a standard order, but it's not the same as for nouns. See below.
  2. Adverbial expressions can freely leave the auxiliary-head term bracket and move around the sentence to certain locations.
    1. Before or after the verb phrase. However prepositional phrases cannot go right in front of the auxiliary is the verb phrase isn't the first element in the sentence but must go after the head term or to the beginning of the sentence.
    2. To the beginning of the sentence. Many adverbials can do this, whether they have an object or not.
    3. To precede the article for one of the arguments to the verb to modify the argument in relation to the verb. A particular verb might mandate such modifiers as required or as optional.
  3. Modifying terms are more likely to be interpreted as chained verbs with a modal meaning than as part of a compound meaning, although the latter occurs as well.

The allowed positions work in relative clauses much as in main clauses, except that relative clauses are always introduced with su or si, and any adverbials belonging to their internal verbs used at the beginning of the clause must come after su or si and in general cannot leave the clause.

In English, we consider words that modify adjectives and other adverbs, like 'very', to be adverbs as well. Common considers these to be modifiers that take a modifier object, and these will be a separate topic of discussion.

Common considers every modifier in a sentence to 'belong' to a specific noun or verb phrase in the sentence. Noun modifiers belong to their noun phrases via very strict positioning requirements. Verb modifiers have some positioning requirements but are much freer to move around. Their exact interpretation can vary by position in the sentence. Nevertheless, in terms of the concepts of formal Common grammar, any modifier you encounter in a clause that does not clearly belong to one of the noun phrases in that clause is considered to belong to the clause's verb phrase, and to modify it in some way, even if somewhat peripherally.

Because of the idea in Common that any adverbial 'belongs' to the verb phrase of the clause, if such a word encountered anywhere in the sentence it is considered to leave a 'trace' between the auxiliary and the head term in the verb phrase as if it had been moved out of the bracket. As such, in the case of head term dropping, in grammatical Common, you are supposed to use the dummy head term 'yn' if you want to drop the head term and still use any adverbials, even such as one applying some attitude to the entire sentence (like introducing a sentence with 'Unfortunately').

With the equivalent 'yn' rule with nouns, native speakers are mostly very good about obeying it. The rule is generally obeyed but more likely to be flouted with adverbs, suggesting that the trace theory may not be as applicable with all kinds of adverbs. It is important to understand and follow this rule for good formal style, however.

Adverbials (modifiers of verbs) can do the following kinds of things:

  1. Directly modify the verb, clarifying something about frequency, manner, time, etc. In this case they are usually found in close proximity to the verb phrase, either in the bracket, directly before the auxiliary, or directly after the head term.
  2. Apply to the whole sentence or statement. In this case they are often found at the beginning of the sentence or clause.
  3. Apply to a particular noun phrase or clause, including one of the normal verb arguments.  In this case they directly precede the opening determiner of the phrase, even in the case of relative clauses with 'su' or 'si'. Some verbs may allow or require this in addition to the argument pattern established by its paradigm verb.
  4. Introduce some additional special argument a verb uses that is not covered as part of its paradigm verb, typically with a nominative noun phrase object.

The following is the basic order of where adverbials theoretically appear inside a verb phrase. As with nouns, trace theory is considered to apply if any are moved out of the bracket, driving the appearance of 'yn' if modifiers are used and the head term is dropped. As with nouns, modifiers with objects that are not also modifiers cannot stay in the bracket and must move out. Unlike with nouns, adverbials tend to preserve the same order in any position where more than one is found and to not reverse order like noun modifiers to maintain the same closeness to the head term.

Mandatory elements are in bold underline. Elements which have a strict position that never deviates when present are in bold. Elements which are generally found in this position but which may have exceptions in order to convey a special meaning or for literary effect are undecorated. The head term, which is mandatory if any modifiers are present, is underlined.

  1. Auxiliary Determiner
  2. Time
  3. Duration
  4. Frequency
  5. Place
  6. Manner
  7. Instrument
  8. Purpose
  9. Polarity
  10. Chained Verbs
  11. Modifying Terms
  12. Head Term

This order is somewhat different than the manner-place-frequency-time-purpose 'royal order of adverbs' in English. As in English, the order reflects a tendency and real-world counter-examples can easily be found, particularly for the undecorated elements in the list. As with modifiers of nouns, Davidson specified some of the order explicitly, certainly all the bold elements, but there was little explicit direction on the remaining elements. Common was evidently created with a different order of adverbials than English, however, because examples where time preceded place and manner are attested in the earliest writings.

In the late early and middle periods, order in adverbs showed considerable variation in attested writings, often influenced by the speakers' native languages. Chinese and English speakers, for example, tended to use orders closer to their native languages, which are quite different. The order in Common is a little closer to that of Chinese than English in some ways, and how the system ended up may actually be more of an influence from Mandarin than from English. In the late middle period, the order started to settle down towards the modern style, and by the time the language was codified in the early modern period, grammarians were recommending a style very close to the modern style above.

Each of these categories is a full article by itself, and since adverbials are so often prepositional phrases, a basic discussion of prepositions is required before diving into these further. The goal for this article is to lay out the basic structure to build on. Adverbials of time, duration and frequency, in particular, fill out the verb system to allow it to be much more precise about tense and aspect than the auxiliary conjugations permit, and will be part of a more in-depth discussion on verbs. However, we will touch on items 9-11 now in a little more depth.

9. Polarity (Negation and Answering Yes/No Questions)

Polarity refers to whether the verb is positive or negative. Common has particles to indicate both - the positive particle is less often required, but is used to emphasise the positiveness of a verb, such as to contradict a negative assertion about the action. The negative particle does the name thing as 'not' in English, and is required to express a negative. If another adverbial indicates a negative meaning to the verb somehow, the negative particle is still required - Common demands a double negative in these circumstances, and a double negative is still a negative, or a more intense negative.

Positive: la
Negative: ikky

Polarity particles are also used as the epithets for yes and no. They may be used on their own in answer to a yes-no question. When used to introduce a sentence as the answer to a yes/no question, grammatical Common requires a polarity particle to be repeated in the verb phrase, not necessarily the same particle, though. For example the following are all valid:

La, a costo se la an uzre
Yes, the house is green.

Ikky, a costo se ikky an uzre.
No, the house is not green.

La, a costo se ikky an uzre.
Yes, the house is not green.

Ikky, a costo se la an uzre.
No, the house is green.

The positive particle may sometimes be omitted from the verb phrase by some speakers when answering a yes/no question with a positive sentence, but this is actually considered ungrammatical. Speakers are careful to use a negative particle in the verb phrase when answering a yes/no question with a negative sentence, however.

10. Chained Verbs

Modifying terms can be applied to the head term main verb to introduce more information about time or mood than is contained in the verbal auxiliary. They are considered to apply in series, with each one applying to the next in sequence until the last applies to the head term. For example, the verbs 'noxaj', 'go' and 'jusal', 'want' can be used in the fashion.

When used as a chained verb, 'nojax' connotes a future sense, just like in English. Using noxaj this way connotes that the speaker considers the future action very definite and probably not a very long time in the future. Example:

Ja pocuk te noxaj zeul a paluh.
The(ERG) child hit(NP,IMP) go eye the(ABS) dog.

'The child is going to look at the dog.'

Contrasting 'jusal', jusal can also indicate a future sense. The implication is that the referent desires to complete the action and will if not prevented. The attitude towards the likelihood of the action coming to fruition is less definite and the timeframe may be longer or less definite.

Ja pocuk te jusal zeul a paluh.
The(ERG) child hit(NP,IMP) want eye the(ABS) dog.

'The child will look at the dog' or 'The child wants to look at the dog'

If the speaker wanted to emphasise the child's desire to look at the dog rather than the action that this desire unleashes, a non-chained relative construction might be selected:

A pocuk nox jusal ixi a paluh te zeul.
The(ABS) child go(NP,IMP) want that(DAT) the(ABS) dog hit(NP,IM) eye.

'The child wants to look at the dog.'

If noxaj and jusal are chained, jusal connotes more of the sense of desire and noxaj connotes more of the sense of future time, and the order matters to the meaning:

Ja pocuk te jusal noxaj zeul a paluh.
The child wants to go to pet the dog.

Ja pocuk te noxaj jusal zeul a paluh.
The child is going to want to pet the dog.

The first doesn't do much interesting, other than emphasise than the future action arises out of desire. The wanting is in the present, the action is in the future. The second places the wanting in the future and deemphasises the achievement of the action.

All of these constructions produce similar shades of meaning about future actions. You could also say:

Ja pocuk te zeul a paluh
The(ERG) child hit(NP,IMP) eye the(ABS) dog

'The child is going to look at the dog.'

This is because 'te' is in the non-past, and that means it can just as easily be interpreted to have a future meaning as a present meaning without any other indicator of future time.

Note that auxiliary agreement and verbal arguments are usually based on the head term. Noxaj and jusal are both semitransitive noxaj verbs, but in all these chained verb examples, the verb was conjugated with te, because the head term zeul is a transitive skurun verb.

However, there are exceptions where the expression acts more like an orthographically unjoined compound word, and the valence agreement of the compound can be completely unexpected relative to its components. An example of this would be with 'eru', 'water', which used as a verb is a skurun verb and means something like to water something, but when used in a compound with 'wero', 'cause or make', as 'wero eru', which is a euphemistic or polite way of saying urinate, the compound acts as a pali verb.

11. Modifying Terms

Verb phrases can have modifying terms on the verb much as noun phrases can, and like with nouns, these shade into being parts of compound words rather than independent words. Unlike with nouns, which tolerate the ambiguity between possessing terms and modifying terms well, verbs do not like this ambiguity, and Common tends to avoid modifying terms for verbs, instead preferring to use compounding or other forms of derivation and word building to try to get to a single-word head term. However, modifying terms are grammatical and do exist.


We have barely touched on the topic of adverbials in this article. Adverbials are a huge and diverse topic to which we will return again. For now, we have laid a foundation, explaining the order and positioning of adverbial verb modifiers, and the grammatically important polarity and chained verb parts of the verb phrase.


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