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Can an adverb precede modal verb? I've seen this kind of sentence: I just can't believe what happened

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Yes, it's a grammatically correct construction.

The problem is that semantically it rarely makes sense (verbs like can, should, etc. don't really have any qualities that could be modified by an adverb), and the only example I can think of is using it for added emphasis:

I simply can't understand why you did it.

I really shouldn't have done that.

  • Can I emphasize a modal with "do"? Like that: "I do can read."? – BoSsYyY Feb 14 '18 at 14:42
  • @BoSsYyY not really, it sounds very off to me. Emphatic "do" should be followed by an infinitive, and "can" along with most auxiliaries doesn't have an infinitive form. – Maciej Stachowski Feb 14 '18 at 14:49
  • I don't know why you say verbs like can, should, etc. don't really have any qualities that could be modified by an adverb. Fairly obviously it makes sense to understand just = simply (= "really") in I just can't believe it! as modifying can. You've only got to consider the implications of shifting the adverb to the right, so it modifies believe instead. That would give us I can't just believe it, which would have a completely different meaning (where just = merely). Perhaps asserting that mere belief is insufficient (maybe he needs to prove it for himself). – FumbleFingers Feb 14 '18 at 16:56

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