Adverb placement

By Marina Pantcheva

Adverbs are words that answer the questions when, where, and how, for example, recently, never, below, slowly, frankly. Typically, adverbs end in -ly though there are a few adjectives that take this ending too, such as lovely, friendly, lonely.

Adverbs can be used to modify an adjective or an entire sentence. When modifying an adjective, the adverb immediately precedes it: particularly hot weather, recently re-elected president. 

When modifying an entire sentence, adverbs can be placed in four positions:

  • at the beginning;
  • at the end;
  • after the verb to be and all auxiliary verbs: can, may, will, must, shall, and have, when have is used as an auxiliary (for example in I have been in Spain twice);
  • before all the other verbs.

Some adverbs can appear in all four positions; others have less freedom, for example, they cannot be the first word in the clause.

Beginning of the sentence

Adverbs placed at the beginning of the clause are often separated by a comma. The comma is obligatory after however, in fact, therefore, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore, and still.

(1)    Usually the summer is hot and humid.

(2)    Sometimes she wishes it was not so hot.

(3)    Unfortunately, this summer is particularly hot.

Some adverbs cannot begin a declarative sentence. These are: always, ever, rarely, seldom and never.

Next to the agreeing verb

There are two positions next to the agreeing verb (this is the verb that changes its form depending on the number of the subject, and also the tense): immediately before and immediately after the verb. In which of the two positions the adverb will appear depends on the verb.

  • auxiliary verbs (have, be): the adverb follows the verb;

(4)    The summer is usually hot and humid.

  • modal verbs (have, can, will, shall, may, must, might): the adverb follows the verb;

(5)    This summer will hopefully be cool and dry.

  • all other verbs (sleep, dance, read, want, etc): the adverb precedes the verb.

(6)    She sometimes wishes it was not so hot.

The placement of adverbs with respect to the verb to have depends on whether to have is used as an auxiliary verb (part of a verb complex), or as a main verb (standing alone and meaning ‘possess’). When it is an auxiliary, the adverb follows it; when it is a main verb, the adverb precedes it.

(7)    He has always been very interested in technology.

(8)    She always has a pair of pliers in her handbag.

End of the sentence

The adverbs that most frequently appear at the end of the sentence are:

  • adverbs of frequency: usually, normally, often, frequently, sometimes, occasionally;
  • adverbs of manner (answering the question how): slowly, quickly, badly, silently;
  • adverbs of time: today, already, last week, this year.

(9)    The summer is very hot usually.

(10)  She opened the envelope carefully.

(11)  There is no wind today.

Some adverb cannot be last in a sentence. These are the same adverbs that cannot come first: always, ever, rarely, seldom and never.

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