Positions of Adverbs

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Give Careful Attention to Positions of Adverbs

Adverbs play the role of modifiers; in other words, they modify words (verbs, adjectives or adverbs) in sentences.

It is important to position an adverb at the right place so that it is clear which word or words it aims to modify.

To make our meaning clear, the adverb must be placed as near as possible to the word it modifies. Otherwise our meaning will be ambiguous.

Consider the following sentences:

  • You can only succeed when you work hard.
  • You can succeed only when you work hard.

In terms of words placement:

  • The first sentence says that if you work, you will manage to get only success.
  • The second sentence suggests that you will succeed only if you work hard.

So, the meaning of both sentences is different. Hence, it pays to pay careful attention while placing an adverb.

The following adverbs require careful attention and must be placed at the right places to give us the intended meanings.

  1. “Even, only, almost, at least, never, merely” and “not”

    The adverbs even, only, almost, at least, never, merely and not are placed before the words they modify.

    Consider the following sentence:

    • He gave us only five dollars.
  2. “Have to” and “used to”

    These words are usually placed after adverbs. Consider the following sentences:

    • I have to often go to school on foot.
    • I often have to go to school on foot.

    Have to and used to are usually placed after the adverb. Hence, the first sentence is incorrect because the words have to has been wrongly placed before the adverb often.

  3. Enough

    The adverb enough is always placed after the word it modifies.

    Observe the example below:

    • The 007 series was interesting enough to see. (NOT enough interesting)
    Important Hint  

    Note that when enough is used as an adjective, it can come before the noun.

    • There was enough entertainment for the children party.
  4. Adverbs of frequency

    Adverbs of frequency Opens in new window such as “always,” “ever,” “often,” “frequency,” “seldom,” “never,” “sometimes,” “usually,” “generally,” “rarely,” etc. and certain other adverbs— “almost,” “already,” “hardly,” “nearly,” “quite,” etc.— are generally placed between the subject and the verb, if the verb consists of only one word.

    Consider the following examples:

    • He quite often eats lunch at McDonald's.
    • I seldom visit him.

    Likewise, if the verb consists of more than one word, they are placed between the auxiliary and the verb.

    • We have never seen each other since last September.
  5. Important Hint 

    Note that with the verb to be, the above–mentioned adverbs are placed after the verb:

    • Gretchen is finical. She is hardly quite satisfied.
  6. Adverbs referring to the whole sentence

    If an adverb refers to the whole sentence, it must come in the beginning of the sentence. For Example:

    • Finally, he opened the door after a flurry of knocks.

    Note that an adverb is placed at the beginning of a sentence when it is introduced for the sake of emphasis.

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