Putting the adverb in the wrong spot can produce an awkward sentence at best and completely change the meaning at worst. Place adverbs as close as possible to the words they are supposed to modify. Be especially careful about the word only, which is one of the most often misplaced modifiers. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

    • Phillip only fed the cat.
    • Phillip fed only the cat.

The first sentence means that all Phillip did was feed the cat. He didn’t pet the cat or pick it up or anything else. The second sentence means that Phillip fed the cat, but he didn’t feed the dog, the bird, or anyone else who might have been around.

When an adverb is modifying a verb phrase, the most natural place for the adverb is usually the middle of the phrase.

    • We are quickly approaching the deadline.
    • Phillip has always loved singing.
    • I will happily assist you.

Position of Adverbs

Adverbs can be used in three positions in a sentence or clause.

    • front (perhaps they’ll arrive this evening)
    • mid (she hardly knew him)
    • end (I left the bedroom and ran downstairs)

Front position

The main types of adverbs that can be used in this position are those that:

begin a sentence or clause that’s linked in meaning to another

    • People tend to put on weight in middle age. However, gaining weight is not inevitable.
    • I’ll begin with an overview of the product. Secondly, I’ll talk about projected sales.

refer to time or frequency

    • Afterwards, we went out for a walk.
    • Sometimes she wonders what life’s all about.

refer to place

    • There goes my bus!
    • Up he ran, soon disappearing from view.

comment on the rest of the sentence or clause (sentence adverbs)

    • Luckily, our meal lived up to expectation.
    • Clearly, more research is needed.

Mid position

This term refers to adverbs that can be used in the middle of a sentence or clause. The main kinds of adverbs found in this position are those that:

refer to frequency

    • We always meet for coffee on Saturday.
    • She’s never been to Sweden.

refer to manner

    • He carefully avoided my eye.
    • slowly walked into town.

make the meaning of a verb, adjective, or another adverb stronger or weaker

    • She nearly fell asleep at her desk.
    • These ideas are very complicated.

comment on the rest of the sentence or clause

    • When we first heard this story, frankly, we couldn’t believe it.

focus on part of a sentence or clause

    • I’m only going to stay in New York for a week.
    • Tina can’t just drop all her commitments.

End position

The main types of adverbs which can be used at the end of a sentence of a clause are those that:

refer to manner

    • It’s an interesting plot twist and one that works well.
    • For some reason, his career progressed slowly.

refer to time or frequency

    • The troops flew home yesterday.
    • They’re sending hundreds of texts to each other monthly.

refer to place

    • They’re sitting at the table over there.
    • There was a sudden burst of laughter from the people who could see outside.

Position of Adverbs and Verbs

Adverbs are often found between the subject and its verb.

    • We always meet for lunch at 1 p.m.
    • completely forgot his name.

They can also come between an auxiliary verb (such as be or have) and the main verb.

    • The concert was suddenly cancelled.
    • He had quickly eaten his dinner.
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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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