What would be the correct interpretation of the word 'unexpectedly' in a sentence.

For example.

I spoke to her unexpectedly.

My question regarding the above sentence is what is the correct interpretation of the sentence above.

The subject would be 'I' the verb would be 'spoke' and the adverb would be 'unexpectedly'

My question is who would it been unexpected to?

Does it mean that I spoke to her in a way that I (the subject) did not expect or does it mean that she (the object) was spoken to in a way that she did not expect.

Please explain.

  • She spoke to me unexpectedly. [adverb: how she spoke to me]
    – Lambie
    Jul 12, 2021 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


The adverb unexpectedly is generally used to indicate that any reasonable person could not have expected something to happen.

If you want to specify that you or she in particular didn't expect it, you have to explicitly say so:

I spoke to her: I wasn't expecting that.
I spoke to her: she wasn't expecting that.

  • Yep, in other words, what specifically is unexpected, and for whom it is unexpected is ambiguous.
    – gotube
    Jul 13, 2021 at 2:09
  • @gotube In spoken English, we can place the stress on what specifically is unexpected and add a pause before the adverb, for example, "I spoke to her, unexpectedly" vs "I spoke to her, unexpectedly": In written English, we can use adverb placement to be specific: "I, unexpectedly, spoke to her" vs "I spoke: to her, unexpectedly".. As I said, it means that any reasonable person could not have expected something. It's not ambiguous at all.
    – JavaLatte
    Jul 13, 2021 at 4:54
  • I was agreeing with your answer, in which you said "If you want to specify ... you have to explicitly say so." I understand that to mean the sentence is ambiguous otherwise. If there's no comma and it applies to the whole clause, it's still ambiguous to me in terms of who is surprised. It could even be a third party observer who's surprised even though neither of the people in the sentence were surprised.
    – gotube
    Jul 13, 2021 at 5:03

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