I wrote a sentence, and my teacher said something was wrong:

Such an unfortunate man could surprisingly live to 73 years old 400 years ago.

She said that "surprisingly" was a submodifier, which couldn't be used to modify a verb but an adjective. I don't understand the reason behind. Is there any way to determine whether an adverb can describe a verb / an adjective / both?

  • Didn't she say you need to place a verb "be" after "to"?
    – user24743
    May 13, 2016 at 6:36
  • @Rathony No, she didn't. Could "live to be" be replaced by "live until"? Thanks!
    – Toby Ng
    May 14, 2016 at 16:48
  • Well, ask her again. She will think about it and let you know.
    – user24743
    May 14, 2016 at 16:57

2 Answers 2


She's wrong. You can use it both ways:

"The train, surprisingly, ran late" => The train is normally on time, and it was surprising that it was late. 'Surprisingly' affects the verb phrase 'ran late'

"The train ran surprisingly late" => You might have expected a train to run late, but it was surprising how late it was. 'Surprisingly' is only modifying the adverb 'late'.

  • Thank you! May I ask the terminology used to describe "surprisingly" for each of the above examples? They are both adverbs, right? What is a submodifier?
    – Toby Ng
    May 14, 2016 at 16:44

The accepted answer does a good job explaining the difference in meaning with the placement of an adverb being different but it doesn't answer your question "What are submodifiers?"

"Submodifier" is short for subordinate modifier. It comes from the fact that submodifiers are used to modify other modifiers. A submodifier is an adverb that is placed before another modifier (an adjective or an adverb) and modifies that modifier. For example, in

You are very good at running quickly.

Very is a submodifier in this sentence, while the other adverb "quickly" isn't.

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