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Can we put any adverb that ending with-ly at the beginning of a sentence?

Sometimes, it ’s quite difficult for me to decide where I can put an adverb in a sentence so I wonder if I can put any adverb which ending with-ly at the beginning of a sentence or not. It might be easier for me.

Like these.

Quietly, the teacher asked the children to finish their game.

Hurriedly, she typed the email.

Freely, you can speak.

Loudly and convincingly, Jonathan spoke about the advantages of leasing rather than buying cars.

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    All of them, except the third one, sound fine to me. I don't know why (and I'm not a native speaker too). Nov 27, 2013 at 5:22
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    @DamkerngT. Freely can't be moved because it doesn't modify the entire sentence, whose head is can, but only the lexical verb speak. 'You' are granted permission to 'speak freely'. Nov 27, 2013 at 12:10
  • @StoneyB, this is really great to know. They look quite clearer to me now. Thank you very much! Nov 27, 2013 at 12:14

2 Answers 2

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Where you put an adverb or adverbial phrase depends on what it is you want to modify.

Before a sentence an adverbial is taken to modify the entire sentence; in other positions its scope may be more restricted.

For instance, in your first example, quietly may be placed at the beginning or after teacher if it modifies the main clause, but if it is placed at the end it will be understood to modify the subordinate clause to finish their game. The same constraints operate on your last example, except leasing ... cars loudly and convincingly makes no sense; consequently you will not be misunderstood if you put loudly and convincingly at the end. (But you should not do so, since this will create a momentary confusion.)

In the second example, which contains only a single clause, the adverbial may be placed at the beginning, after she, or at the end.

The third example is tricky. This sentence must be parsed You [can [speak {freely}], not You [[can speak] {freely}]: freely modifies only the lexical verb speak, not the permission or concession expressed by can, so freely must be placed after speak.

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The easy-to-remember rule is to place the adverb immediately before the word being modified.

Joe swiftly ran to the extremely bright red car.

Note that other positions may or may not mean the same thing:

Joe ran swiftly to the bright extremely red car.

Here ran swiftly means the same thing simply because swiftly could only modify an action verb.

The same is not true of reordering extremely and red: Now it means the car is considerably red (meaning intense or well covered) and no longer means it is significantly bright.

Other positions for adverbs are often acceptable. But if in doubt, beside the word being qualified is safe.


However, the only rule of English being that there are no absolute rules: fast is also an adverb meaning swiftly. So by the rule above, this should be fine:

Joe fast ran to ... (incorrect)

English speakers would only say Joe ran fast ... even though fast ran must mean the same thing. (I don't know why this is—only that it is so.)


To directly answer the question: Yes, you could put an adverb there, but it might not have the intended effect. Or it could be ambiguous or misleading.

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  • @Jasper: I have amended my answer.
    – wallyk
    Nov 15, 2015 at 23:19

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