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2. Where Do Adverbs Go?

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Many writers make a mistake.

As we learned in the section on verbs, every one-word verb has a one-word present tense and a one-word past tense. Thus: I write and I wrote. These one-word verbs are called simple verbs.

Recall that all other tenses require more than one word. These multiword verbs are called compound verbs. They consist of one or more of the 16 auxiliary verbs (be, do, have, can, could, dare, may, might, must, need, ought to, shall, should, used to, will, and would) and the main verb. Thus: I will write, I have written, I was writing, I should have written, and so on.

When you modify a verb with an adverb, you must decide where to put it. In the previous section on adjectives, we learned of their rather rigid nature. They must usually appear in the attributive position, that is, before the noun they modify. But an adverb can move around in your sentence. Though all forms might not be preferred, you could say

Finally, we decided on the policy. We finally decided on the policy. We decided finally on the policy. We decided on the policy finally.

Placement with One-Word Verb Forms

Thus, whenever you use an adverb, you must decide where to put it. Some rules will guide your decision. First, for simple (one-word) verb forms, you should try to put the adverb before the verb, though sometimes you’ll want to move it to the beginning or even to the end of the sentence. Thus:

Igor quickly ran across the field.


Quickly Igor ran across the field.


Igor ran across the field quickly.

Placement with Compound Verb Forms

Second, for compound (multiword) verbs, don’t be fooled into following a myth perpetrated by well-meaning but misinformed editors. Many would have you believe that you should keep the parts of a compound-verb form together and put an adverb either before or after the compound verb.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just the opposite is true. When modifying a compound-verb form, you should usually put the adverb somewhere between the words. (Check that out: You should usually put . . . .)

Seven Rules on Placement

So to put adverbs in their proper place, follow these seven conventions:

1. To stress the adverb, put it before the subject.

Emphatically the parent denied the child’s request to ride without a seatbelt.

2. An adverb needing no emphasis comes after the subject and before the simple (one-word) verb.

The teacher sometimes uses the dictionary.

3. Do not put an adverb between a verb and its object.

Avoid: I understand entirely the rule governing the placement of adverbs. (The word understand is the verb and rule is its object; no adverb should come in between.)

Instead: I entirely understand the rule governing the placement of adverbs.

4. An adverb modifying a two-word compound verb comes between the helping verb and the main verb.

The manager will probably review the salary scales next month. The president has often rejected similar arguments. The runner was consistently winning her races.

5. An adverb modifying a three-word compound verb comes after the first helping verb when the adverb modifies the entire thought communicated by the compound verb.

The students have certainly been forewarned about the risks of smoking. We will undoubtedly have received news from the school by that time.

6. If an adverb strongly modifies the main verb, put it before the main verb, not after the first helping verb (in a compound verb with three or more words).

This argument has been repeatedly rejected by the personnel office. This policy will have become firmly entrenched in our tax law.

7. An adverbial expression consisting of several words comes outside the compound verb, ordinarily after it.

The students have been reminded over and over again to refrain from smoking. We have been hearing this particular argument off and on for several years.

Examples of Bad Form

Wilson Follett devised the above principles. Follett, p. 18. He commented on them as follows:

These principles were practiced for many generations without anyone’s having to think about them. Then strange things began to happen. Some influential source promulgated the doctrine that the compound verb is an indivisible unit, and that to wedge an adverb into it is a crime akin to the splitting of an infinitive. The results are uniformly bad.

Mr. Follett’s bad results look like this, with repairs appearing below each example. The adverbs appear in bold, the compound verbs in bold italic:

Mr. Follett’s Examples

Before & After Repair Jobs
Original Repaired It long had been known It had long been known.
Original Repaired It officially was announced the other day.  It was officially announced the other day.
Original Repaired They unfailingly have been led by a brilliant passer. They have been unfailingly led by a brilliant passer.
Original Repaired This session of Congress doubtless will see a lot of bickering. This session of Congress will doubtless see a lot of bickering.
Original Repaired Is the book protected since it first was published? Is the book protected since it was first published?
Original Repaired The people upstairs always are pounding the walls. The people upstairs are always pounding the walls.

All of these adverbs should appear between the helping verb and the main verb.

Thus, in sum, in compound-verb forms having two words, put the adverb between the two verb words. In compound verbs having three or more words, put the adverb after the first helping verb, but if the adverb seems to stress the main verb, then put it right before the main verb.


Previous: 1. Do All Adverbs End in -ly?

Next: 3. Placing the Word “Only”

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  • Baiciao Ren
    Baiciao Ren
    He run quickly down the hill. Isn't this sentence wrong because quicky is in between run and hill? Or Or does this rule apply only to verb and object next to each other? I would really appreciation if someone can help me untangle this confusion, thanks. 
    LikeReply 53 years ago
  • Motu Patlu
    Motu Patlu
    I would have adverb + main verb
    Or I would +adverb +have + main verb.
    Which one is correct.
    LikeReply 44 years ago
  • Rod Boggess
    Rod Boggess
    Do these rules apply to British or American English?
    LikeReply 34 years ago
  • Eslstudy Morbi
    Eslstudy Morbi
    " The manager will probably review the salary scales next month." The words " will & review" are not a case of a "Compound verb " but a " Verb Phrase" A verb phrase = will review
    LikeReply 34 years ago
  • Shuichi  Saito
    Shuichi Saito
    What about the placement of "still," as in "I still haven't got the answer."? Is this incorrect, or is there a rule for the case where an adverb does come before compound verbs (like when it is modifying a helping verb, "have" in the above case?). 
    LikeReply 57 years ago
  • Duyen LE
    Duyen LE
    Can somebody explain:
    'My father doesn't always stay at home at weekends'
    'My father never stays at home at weekends'
    I know that both are grammatically correct, they have different meanings. but Can i somehow paraphrase the second one with doesn't and always (or another adv?
    ('My father always doesn't stay at home at weekends' :(( for instant) 
    LikeReply 38 years ago
    • Lesley Anne
      Lesley Anne
      It's an informal thing to say so I would start by changing at to on if you are going for a native tongue dialogue. If you want to use doesn't, which is how someone might speak but isn't necessarily the best idea on an essay, you would say, "My father doesn't (typically, usually) stay home on weekends (or stay at home during the weekend if you want to mean he's not just out doing errands but physically lives elsewhere but only on the weekends)." What is the purpose behind what you are trying to say? 
      LikeReply 48 years ago
    • Duyen LE
      Duyen LE
      Lesley Leatherdale thank you so much for your help! i'm asking about the position of adverbs
      Is 'he always doesn't stays at home on weekends' correct?
      Please also help me on these things:
      1. 'He drives carefully' or 'he carefully drives'?
      2. 'he drives the car carefully' or 'he carefully drives the car'?
      3. 'he carefully drives to the gate' or 'he drives to the gate carefully'?
      4.Can i say ' he drives very careful' since i have the adverb 'very' after the verb 'drives'
      5. Does BrE use 'at weekends'?
      LikeReply 38 years ago
    • Megan Migi Yang
      Megan Migi Yang
      Bí Đao Bí Ngô "always doesn't" isn't correct :/
      1. "He drives carefully"
      2. "he drives the car carefully"
      3. "he drives to the gate carefully"
      4. you would still have to use "carefully", but you could also say "he is careful as he drives" or "he is very careful as he drives" :)
      5. BrE = British English? I live in Canada so I'm not 100% sure, but I think they do use "at weekends" 
      LikeReply 37 years ago
    • Kathleen Duffy
      Kathleen Duffy
      Megan Migi Yang which is best:. He drives carefully.or He carefully drives
      LikeReply 34 years ago
    • Phạm Đình Sang
      Phạm Đình Sang
      Duyen LE omgggg I'm confusing with the place of the adverbs in the sentences and run into your name here =)))
      LikeReply 34 years ago


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