This is how I would position the adverbs in the following sentences:

Jan can't ever have seen a mobile phone before.
Arnie must have undoubtedly been treated badly.

If my word order is correct, can someone please provide a rule for both cases? I haven't been able to find one that would deal with cases where there is a modal and present perfect in one sentence.

Thank you very much for shedding light on this. Mel.

  • 1
    I'm not sure if there's a formal rule--but to my ears (as a native speaker of US English), "can't have ever" and "can't ever have" both sound perfectly idiomatic to me. Ditto with "must have undoubtedly," "must undoubtedly have," and "undoubtedly must have."
    – chapka
    Apr 18, 2014 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


You got both right. "Ever" modifies "have seen" so it goes before that and follows "not". However, I often see it between "have" and the verb, as in: "Jan can't have ever seen a mobile phone before."

The second is fine. In that sentence, the adverb "undoubtedly" could actually be anywhere and not really change the meaning. It modifies the entire phrase "must have been treated badly" and not just one particular word in that phrase. Usually, adverb placement will change the tone and emphasis based on its placement but that depends on context.


Well, I would take those adverbs out. They don't add anything and they confuse the meaning. Jane can't have seen a mobile phone before. Arnie must have been treated badly.

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