How to parse the following sentence:

I speak well of him.

If "well" modifies "speak", can I say: I speak of him well. If not, how to parse it.


I think highly of him.

  • Parse like... I speak [well] of him. But then I think highly of him?
    – Maulik V
    Feb 17, 2014 at 5:29
  • 1
    @MaulikV Yes, in Collins dictionary, "If you think a lot/higly of someone or something, you admire them very much or think they are very good."
    – user48070
    Feb 17, 2014 at 5:33
  • +1 That's useful. But I hope this does not happen with the adverb hardly! Later- Ah, I checked..it's an idiom.
    – Maulik V
    Feb 17, 2014 at 5:43

2 Answers 2


To speak well of someone is to praise them. It is a very common form, especially in reported speech, as in "I hear A speaks well of B". The opposite is also common - "A speaks ill of B".

"I speak of him well" would not be appropriate in this context. It sounds more to the ear as if you are saying "I am good at speaking about him"

The equivalent modifier for thinking is as you have stated - "I think highly of him". To think well is rarely heard but is sometimes seen in Victorian literature.


I think the method of parsing, that is describing the word classes and the kind of word groups does not help here in any way. The question concerns the word order and here parsing does not help.

The problem is why is "I speak well of him" considered as normal word order and why is "I speak of him well" not considered as normal or even very queer.

In this sentence the main stress and weight is on the idea "well" and "well" is placed as the first indication after the verb. In this sentence the indication "of him" has secondary importance. So we could say this is a sentence type with the word order: subject - verbal part- primary indication - secondary indication. And one would say this word order has some logic. Such questions are not explained in normal grammars. And analyzing such things is difficult as we have a lot of sentence types and a lot of possibilities of giving weight to one element of a sentence - by stress, by transferring it to the front of the sentence and other possibilities. Such things a better treated in books about stylistics.

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