Dr Johnson justifiably anticipates further discoveries.

The couple still spoke to each other civilly.

Why do some adverbs follow the verbs while others precede the verbs? Is there any rule to follow about this? How should we discriminate one from another?

  • I'm not sure if you want to know about the adverb positions in general (this page, dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/…, would be a good start) or want to know that when it's in the mid-position, when it will come before or after the verb (both are possible, e.g., She's still missing him. She still is.). – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '17 at 15:54
  • Well, it's not a rule but one concern with the examples so far is that placing still too late in a sentence can make it look like an adjective meaning "without movement" instead of an adverb meaning "continuing to be". – lly Apr 6 '17 at 15:58
  • Justifiably can be moved almost anywhere in the first sentence without changing its meaning, whereas moving civilly earlier in the second one does change what it's saying: still talking-civilly versus civilly still-talking. – lly Apr 6 '17 at 16:01

There is no particular order which is "correct" for adverbs that modify verbs. For example, that example sentence can just as easily (and correctly) be rewritten as "She secretly often meets him in the evening at a bar," with exactly the same sense as the example. While there are in fact some strict rules for adverb placement (adverbs modifying adjectives or other adverbs must immediately precede them, interrogative adverbs introduce the clause, relative adverbs connect clauses, etc.), adverbs which modify verbs may be placed anywhere in the sentence where they make sense and clearly modify the verb. e.g.

"I nightly read a book to tire my eyes."

"Nightly I read a book to tire my eyes."

"I read a book to tire my eyes nightly."

"I read a book nightly to tire my eyes."

"I have nightly read a book to tire my eyes"

You may prefer one or the other stylistically, but they are all correct syntactically and in all cases it is clear what the adverb is modifying.

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English has a pretty rigid syntax. This does not only apply to the subject-predicate-object structure, it also goes for adverbs. In order to know which adverb goes where, you need to be able to tell apart the different types of adverbs / adverbial phrases. The most frequent ones are (careful, this list is far from complete):

  • Adverbials of manner: these tell you how something is happening, e.g. civilly, beautifully, quickly, softly, ...
  • Adverbials of time: these tell you when something is happening, e.g. right now, yesterday, tomorrow at noon, in my childhood, ...
  • Adverbials of place: these tell you where something is happening, e.g. over there, in London, at my house, on the table, ...
  • Adverbials of frequency: these tell you how often something happens, e.g. once, regularly, never

With that in mind, we can include them in our "map" of the English sentence that tells the correct order:

[Subject] [Adverb of frequency] [Predicate] [Object] [Adverb of manner] [Adverb of place] [Adverb of time]
She_[S] often_[A_frequency] meets_[P] him_[O] secretly_[A_manner] at a bar_[A.place] in the evening_[A.time].

Note that you can put single the adverbials in a separate clause at the beginning of the sentence. Still, the rest of the sentence structure remains untouched by this:

In the evening_[A.time], she often meets him secretly at a bar.
Often_[A.frequency], she meets him secretly at a bar.

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