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position of adverbs

Jang-Joon Lee from Korea writes:

I studied English for more than twenty years in school. But I still don't know the exact position of an adverb. Is there any rule regarding the position of adverbs? Thanks a lot.

Roger Woodham replies:

There are three normal positions for adverbs in a sentence: 1) initial position (before the subject)
2) mid position
(between the subject and the verb or immediately after be as a main verb) or
3) end position
(at the end of the clause).

Different types of adverbs favour different positions and I describe these trends below. There are sometimes exceptions to the general rule, so please regard this as a basic guide.


Initial position

Linking adverbs, which join a clause to what was said before, always come here. Time adverbs can come here when we want to show a contrast with a previous reference to time. Comment and viewpoint adverbs (e.g. luckily, officially, presumably) can also come here when we want to highlight what we are about to say. Compare the following:

  • Two of the workers were sacked, and, as a result, everybody went on strike.

  • We invited all the family. However, not everyone could come.

  • The weather will stay fine today, but tomorrow it will rain.

  • Initially, his condition remained stable, but over the last few weeks it has deteriorated.

  • Margaret ran the office, although, officially, Trevor was the manager.

  • I haven't made any plans yet, but presumably you'll want to show her around London
      mid position

Focusing adverbs (e.g. just, even), adverbs of indefinite frequency (e.g. often, always, never) and adverbs of certainty and degree (e.g probably, obviously, clearly, completely, quite, almost) all favour this position. Note that when auxiliary verbs (e.g. is, has, will, was) are used, they normally go between the auxiliary verb and the main verb:

  • She's been everywhere - she's even been to Tibet and Nepal.

  • Tom won't be back yet, but I'll just see if Brenda's home. I'll give her a ring.

  • My boss often travels to Malaysia and Singapore but I've never been there.

  • Have you finished yet? I haven't quite finished. I've almost finished.

  • She's obviously a very bossy woman. ~ I completely agree!

end position

Adverbs of time and definite frequency (e.g. last week, every year) and adverbs of manner when we want to focus on how something is done (e.g. well, slowly, evenly) and adverbs of place (e.g. in the countryside, at the window) usually go in end position:

  • I had a tennis lesson last week, but I'm usually travelling in the middle of the month, so I don't have a lesson every week.

  • How long have you been here? Not long. We arrived about five minutes ago.

  • I chewed the food slowly because it hadn't been cooked very well.

  • She was standing at her window, looking out at her children who were playing in the garden.

Note that when more than one of this type of adverb is used, the order in which they are placed is normally: manner, place, time:

  • They played happily together in the garden the whole afternoon.

When adverbs modify adjectives, they are placed immediately before them:

  • We had some really interesting news last night. John's been offered a job in Australia. He's absolutely delighted.

  • I bought an incredibly expensive dress last week which fits me perfectly. But John says I shouldn't wear it. He says it's too tight.

An exception to this rule is enough which is placed after the adjective or adverb that it modifies:

  • I got up quite early but not early enough to eat a good breakfast.

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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