Please consider the following:

(1) My colleague was refreshingly honest when I asked her for feedback.
(2) It was refreshing to see my colleague being honest when I asked her for feedback.
(3) He is amazingly handsome.
(4) [Amazingly(,)] he is handsome [(,)amazingly].

I don't understand in what way refreshingly modifies honest? Had it been for once instead, how would that qualify at modifying only the adjective and not the whole construct or sentence altogether? Compare the position, and function, of (it was) refreshing + inf. in (2); doesn't it mean the same thing? With amazingly and a simpler phrase, the position seemingly matches the function, as in the degree with (3) or, externally (as an adjunct or something else), the unexpected turn of events with (4). What I gather from (1) is that the speaker thinks this colleague or other coworkers generally might not have always been so forthcoming in the past, and since she is now in this very instance, it feels like something pleasingly fresh or different in context; is it more generic? Using (the conjunction?) when and the complement makes it even more about the quality of a moment in time based on the speaker's contrasting past experience, as opposed to some variation on the colleague being honest in whatever way.

Is that just a more complex type of modifier, not unlike what a (partial) restrictive focusing modifier is (a bit like only etc.) but which still does something comparable to what degree/manner adverbs do, or does it function at the sentence level, like what I understand a VP-oriented adjunct of sorts does? In so many words I feel that in (1) there is like a type mismatch, and the adverb rather seems to be functioning independently as an adjunct to the verb phrase, similar to what it was refreshing essentially yields in (2). And this doesn't feel all too different from something like fortunately at the beginning of a sentence, and this wouldn't be modifying the adjective honest (that I know of).

  • What are the different phrases in (1), what is the exact function and scope of the adverb refreshingly and what type of modifier would it be?
  • Can (1) be construed like an active reordering of (2) which is more positional than functional and which eludes (adjectival) phrase scope as an adjunct would; can we tell without further context (subtext, commas, or appearing at the beginning of the sentence)? Does the scope vary from a category of modifier to the next in an adjectival phrase? Is this some hybrid or it simply an adverb of manner, about a new sensation in general (as opposed to having the potential to actually refresh in a figurative way), yet detached from any specific reference to the personal experience of the speaker or moment in time, and therefore well suited for modifying the adjective and being limited in scope to that phrase?
  • 1
    This may help you link
    – BillJ
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:18
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    Refreshingly honest here doesn't mean that the author's colleague is usually dishonest. It could just mean that people are usually reluctant to give the author direct criticism, so when the colleague was more direct, the author appreciated it.
    – user230
    Dec 10, 2016 at 23:15
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    Anyway, with this “defect” out of the way it’s easier for me to hazard an uneducated guess that “refreshingly” here is serving as an “Evaluation {Stance} Adverb” & that since “refreshingly” has only one basic meaning (“serving to refresh” & “pleasantly fresh & different” are close,imo) its position in the sentence would not change its meaning (unlike “amazingly” which has two distinct meanings [see also “exceptionally” which also has two distinct meanings, one of which would almost mean “refreshingly” when used at sentence’s start]).
    – Papa Poule
    Dec 12, 2016 at 19:47
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    @Lambie It’s probably just me, but when “amazingly” begins a sentence I usually take it to mean sense #1 ("In a way that causes great surprise or wonder"=”Amazingly/surprisingly [enough] [because/in spite of how ugly her brother is], she is beautiful) and sense #1.2 ("very; extremely") when it’s intensifying an adjective=”She is amazingly/very/extremely beautiful.” .... to be continued...1/2
    – Papa Poule
    Dec 13, 2016 at 17:20
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    I am just saying that maybe since you are not a native speaker, this idea of refreshing which is not rafraîchissant in French except in cases of stuff like drinks or swimming or breezes, is "pas évident". But for an English speaker it works like so many other adverbs + adjectives. People and situations in French cannot be called "refreshing" but in English they can. And this adverb refreshingly is not a stance adverb really. It's like any other adverb of degree/manner: amazingly handsome, refreshingly honest, brutally honest, unnervingly honest all just reveal the speaker's attitude.
    – Lambie
    Dec 13, 2016 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


The answer to your question is surprisingly simple.

Who is surprised? Why, everyone, anyone, and nobody.

The answer is so simple that it would surprise a person. That is the nature of its simplicity.

That man is frighteningly stupid but he will be heading the department.


An adverb can modify a verb, adjective or adverb. Consider placement and what word is being modified. The VERY fat man ran TOO QUICKLY. Obfuscated adjunct means the adverb subtly alters the meaning of the statement. He was TOO smart. This makes a usually positive word appear negative. Honest is a positive trait. BRUTALLY honest modifies the meaning to imply a cruel statement. REFRESHINGLY honest implies that it is unusual to have people speak with candour and be straightforward instead of painstakingly polite and pleasant. PAINSTAKINGLY polite implies a degree of phoniness or fear of upsetting other people.

An obfuscated adjunct is similar to a scoping word that alters or refines the meaning of a statement. "VIRTUALLY all people like puppies" prevents making a generalisation or bold statement that could be challenged. Adverbs can dramatically alter a statement and imply a positive or negative association.


I don't understand in what way refreshingly modifies honest?

It doesn't. It modifies was.

Consider this example with a different verb:

My colleague read refreshingly well

The manner/way/method in which she read was refreshing, i.e. had the attribute 'refreshing.'


My colleague was refreshingly honest when I asked her for feedback.

She was honest, the manner/way/method in which she was honest had the attribute 'refreshing'. Therefore, refreshingly.

It may seem weird to answer the question how (which indicates an adverb) for the verb to be but it's possible.

  • This isn't true at all. In your second example, well is how your colleague read. How well? Refreshingly well. Refreshingly modifies well. The same is true for the first example. The honesty was refreshing, not the being.
    – user32753
    Dec 14, 2016 at 20:26
  • Thanks. This is what VP-oriented means imho, because it links the adverb to the verb or entire verb phrase and not the the adjectival phrase (refreshingly honest). But I think you mean it as a description of how to read the sentence and not as having any direct impact on the meaning. It that all because refreshingly "means" another subjective adverb (pleasingly) + new/fresh, and whether you read its subjective aspect (pleasingly for me) through the verb, or the attribute (new/fresh) along the adjective, you end up with the same result or meaning (pleasingly new/fresh)?
    – user16335
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:35

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