Adverb Placement

I was recently asked at a workshop where adverbs should generally be placed in an English sentence. I mumbled my way through an unsatisfactory answer and have since looked for better ways of answering the question.

To start with, for those of you who don’t know what an adverb is, I suggest you google it. I can, however, tell you that the adverbs in the first sentence of this blog are “recently” and “generally”. So why have I placed them in that position?

Here, for non-native speakers of English, is a very simplified version of what someone else says on the topic*:
1) In a sentence with a one-word verb, it is best to place the adverb between the subject and the verb e.g. “He quickly ran towards the girl”. 
2) When there is no object, the adverb can go before or after the verb, depending on emphasis e.g. “He ran quickly”.
3) When the sentence has a verb phrase (i.e. more than a one-word verb e.g. “was surprised”), the adverb goes after the first verb in the phrase e.g. “was extremely surprised”.
4) However, (and this is Fowler’s tip) if the verb phrase has 3 or more words and the adverb and verb suggest an alternative adjective and noun, keep the adverb and main verb together e.g. “He has been justly accused” (You could say “It was a just accusation”, which would be using an alternative adjective and noun).
5) For emphasis, you can decide to place the adverb right at the beginning of a sentence, but this effect should be used sparingly.

Does this all sound complicated? Sorry if I haven’t been able to make myself clear. Feel free to get in touch and ask further questions, or better still, let me know if you think I’m wrong!

* The “someone else” is Claire Cook in her book Line by Line –  How to edit your own writing. She provides a lot of very valuable information on improving your writing, but I can’t really recommend the book for non-native speakers.

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