Keith Tharpe was convicted of the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman, who had been accompanying his estranged wife. After shooting Ms. Freeman with a shotgun, Mr. Tharpe kidnapped his wife and allegedly sexually assaulted her.

Source: Wall Street Journal, emphasis mine

Ostensibly, allegedly doesn’t modify sexually, and I mentally paraphrase it this way:

And [allegedly (as people think or talk)], he assaulted her sexually.

  • 1
    The adverb qualifies what is being stated (he...sexually assaulted her)[allegedly]. It certainly is not an adverb of manner because there is no way to allegedly assault someone. So it functions on a "meta" level. I think your mental paraphrase is correct.
    – TimR
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:11
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    "Sexually assaulted" goes together almost like it were a verb in of itself. So allegedly modifies the "verb" "sexually assaulted". I agree with @Tᴚoɯɐuo here, a more correct way of writing this might be "he allegedly assaulted her sexually". It doesn't sound strange only because "sexually assaulted" is often heard together.
    – Neil
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:40
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    This is a very common construction. The politician reputedly wet his pants when he read the morning papers. reputedly is a characterization of the statement "The politician ... wet his pants when..." itself, as statement. It is semantically roughly equivalent to is said to (have wet his pants).
    – TimR
    Jan 10, 2018 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


It is just a badly written pair of sentences.

Reporters use "allegedly" and "convicted" as legal catch phrases to avoid libel. They are asserting only what they are willing to prove, namely that a person has been accused of or convicted of doing something, rather than asserting what they are anxious to avoid having to prove, namely that the person has actually done that something. In this sentence, it is a bit unclear what crimes resulted in conviction and what was alleged but not proved. It is also unclear who made the allegations. If I had to guess, I'd guess that the man was convicted of murder and kidnapping but not rape. In that case, a competent writer could have written "kidnapped his wife and, allegedly, assaulted his wife sexually." If, however, that was the situation, the whole thing could have been written, "Tharpe was convicted of the 1990 kidnapping of his estranged wife and murder of her sister. He was also accused, but not convicted, of sexually assaulting his wife."


You're very close to right. 


After shooting Ms. Freeman with a shotgun, Mr. Tharpe kidnapped his wife and allegedly sexually assaulted her. 

In this sentence, the shooting and the kidnapping are presented as facts.  In contrast, the sexual assault is presented as an allegation.  That is to say, the adverb "allegedly" does not apply to the entire sentence, but it does apply to the entire predicate "sexually assaulted her". 


You've paraphrased this sentence as follows: 

After shooting Ms. Freeman with a shotgun, Mr. Tharpe kidnapped his wife and, allegedly, he assaulted her sexually. 

Given this structure, "allegedly" applies to the entire clause "he assaulted her sexually".  It still doesn't apply to the entire sentence, and the shooting and kidnapping are still presented as facts rather than allegations. 


You seem to understand the semantics of the original sentence correctly, and you have paraphrased that sentence successfully.  Your mistake lies in confusing a sentence with the constituents that the sentence contains. 

That is an important distinction to make. 

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