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What is a Disjunct?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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In English language and grammar, disjunct has a distinct meaning. It is a word or a small phrase added to a sentence that tends to show mood, opinion or emphasis in some way. Alternately, disjuncts may be a comment on what is being said or an expression from the speaker about how truthful something might be. The disjunct usually doesn’t have to be in the sentence and the sentence would be complete without it, though some specific meaning of the writer/speaker could be lost in the process.

There are many words that qualify as disjunct examples. Some words that may be disjuncts include fortunately, unfortunately, hopefully, probably, possibly, maybe, honestly, clearly, briefly, and frankly. There are number of small phrases that are disjunct phrases too and these might include: in my opinion, fortunately for you, in other words, in truth, between you and me, to my amazement, and to tell the truth. It’s easy to see that many more examples could be added and that it’s possible to generate a number of other terms and phrases that would serve as disjuncts in different kinds of sentences.

In addition to generating disjunct words or phrases, it’s fairly simple to come up with sentences that might use them. The following sentence uses a disjunct phrase to comment on the writing process:

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    It was, in other words, the ugliest cat I had ever seen.

Note the italicized phrase isn’t really necessary to the sentence and it could be said without it. The speaker is really commenting on his or her word choice, which may or may not be appropriate in present writing context. Sometimes it makes sense to remove a phrase that doesn’t belong and write a cleaner sentence.

Another example is the following:

    Possibly, I will see you tonight.

Here the term, possibly, should remain in the sentence since it expresses doubt about the speaker’s plans. Without it, the person being addressed might seem surer that the speaker would show up that night. Qualifying potential actions is valuable to avoid misunderstanding.

On the other hand, the next example of a disjunct could be saying too much:

    Honestly, I will see you tonight.

The term certainly raises the question as to whether the speaker is in the habit of lying about plans, and use of another word like definitely is not stronger than a simple statement of, “I will see you tonight.” Sometimes using these words is up to the speaker or writer’s style and a matter of discretion, but all conscientious users of the English or other languages that use disjuncts would be benefit from understanding use, so they can make informed language choices.

One matter of confusion can be the term disjunction, which is actually quite different. Disjunctions tend to be either/or statements, like this example: “You can either go to the store or to the movies.” They combine two actions, options, or others that can’t exist together. Choosing one means not choosing the other. In a way, the disjunction is the opposite of conjunction because it doesn’t join two things together; instead it joins two things that can’t be or cannot exist together, offering an element of choice.

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