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Are both the sentences expressing same thought?

The plan is environmentally disastrous.

                                  Vs

Environmentally, the plan is disastrous.

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    When you open the sentence with "Environmentally" in that manner, it is typically to place special emphasis on the word for some rhetorical purpose. "Environmentally the plan is disastrous, but it will greatly increase our profits." It can have a concessive "spin". Dec 10, 2023 at 13:05

2 Answers 2

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Close enough that in most situations they are interchangeable.

Structurally the first has the adverb acting as a modifier of "disastrous", and the second has the adverb as an adjunct of the whole clause. With different words, these structures can have different meanings:

Pat was unfortunately dressed (their clothes were poorly chosen, they should have worn different clothes, not a very natural sentence)

Unfortunately, Pat was dressed. (They should have been naked)

But in your example, I can't see any real difference.

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    I'd welcome edits for a better example than "unfortunately dressed"
    – James K
    Dec 10, 2023 at 8:03
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    I'm not convinced about the second has the adverb as an adjunct of the whole clause. I think that would be the case if we changed initial Environmentally to, say, Frankly, because then it would really be a "whole sentence adverb". But in the example as given that doesn't apply for semantic, not syntactic reasons. It's just a stylised inversion, within which environmentally still applies to the plan regardless of where it's placed. Well, I suppose strictly speaking, the adverb always applies to the verb (is) anyway, but that's not very helpful. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:40
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    Yes @FumbleFingers, but I'm going to put that in the box marked "let's not overthink this" There are questions here about whether an adverb modifies the adjective, or the verb or the whole clause, and, frankly, I often don't see any real difference in the meaning. That's the case here.
    – James K
    Dec 10, 2023 at 12:50
  • @JamesK - I think it's fine, although I hope it wasn't cold where Katy was. Dec 10, 2023 at 13:18
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    I think the example itself is fine, although I would consider changing Katie to a more gender-neutral name (eg Pat) to avoid the implication of male gaze. It might also bear pointing out that the two different meanings are reproduced in the structures "X was dressed unfortunately" and "X was dressed, unfortunately"
    – Kirt
    Dec 10, 2023 at 17:48
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OP's first version is the "syntactic default" for English - the adverb (environmentally) goes next to the verb (is). The second version is a "stylistic inversion" with exactly the same meaning.

Note that structurally, that second version with the "fronted" adverb looks like a whole sentence adverb. For semantic reasons that classification doesn't apply with OP's example, but it certainly could with a different adverb...

1: The plan is truly disastrous
2: Truly, the plan is disastrous

....where unquestionably truly in #2 refers to the entire assertion that follows. This leads to a small but potentially significant semantic distinction that might be more obvious in, say...

3: I didn't know he truly liked you
(I thought perhaps he was just being politely friendly to you)
4: Truly, I didn't know he liked you
(I swear I had no idea he was even "favorably disposed" to you)


TL;DR: The actual examples as given just represent different stylistic choices with the same meaning, but there are structurally similar utterances where the position of the adverb more clearly affects the meaning.

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  • I wouldn’t use the term ‘stylistic inversion’ here – I think it risks being misunderstood. It’s a somewhat recondite term to begin with, even within linguistics; but more importantly, it’s ambiguous, being also used (more logically, one might argue) for cases where elements are switched around for purely stylistic reasons, like unusual word orders in poetry. For ELL purposes, I would just say it’s ‘fronted for emphasis’ or ‘topicalised’ Dec 11, 2023 at 2:56
  • I don't think of "stylistic inversion" as a "linguistics" term. To me it's a standard usage in the context of Lit Crit and the deconstruction of poetry, and the meaning should be relatively transparent. And I specifically didn't want to say something like "fronted for emphasis" because that's not always true - "fronting" as a subtype of "inversion" can be done for a range of reasons, not just emphasizing the term moved forward. If you think people will misunderstand me, all I can say is I'd rather use "stylistic inversion" than "hyperbaton" (meaningless, unless you already know the word). Dec 11, 2023 at 3:11
  • ...actually, I wonder if you've understood me. I wasn't saying the "whole sentence adverb" usage is a stylised inversion (as in my truly examples, where the actual meaning changes). I only said that about the OP's second version, where the meaning doesn't change. And I'm not willing to say that fronting the word environmentally gives it "emphasis". That's a matter of opinion which I don't happen to share anyway! Dec 11, 2023 at 3:18
  • I certainly didn’t think you were talking about sentential adverbs (a type of disjunct), since those don’t take part in inversion at all – they’re not moved to the front (or end) of the sentence, that’s their original location. But while I agree that fronting an element doesn’t change the basic meaning of the sentence, I strongly disagree that it doesn’t provide emphasis. Apart from ‘automatic’ fronting (essentially wh-fronting and subject–verb inversion in questions), the entire purpose of fronting is moving an element into focus position, which is a form of emphasising it. In this case → Dec 11, 2023 at 12:18
  • → placing the adverb at the head of the sentence creates an expectation of contrast in a way that placing it after the verb doesn’t. That is, with “The plan is environmentally disastrous”, we don’t expect anything more – the statement is complete. With “Environmentally, the plan is disastrous”, we are left expecting something to contrast with environmentally, such as, “[but] fiscally, it is the best option”. That expectation of contrast is due to the extra amount of emphasis placed on environmentally when fronted. Dec 11, 2023 at 12:21

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