In any Grammar I read I see:

"We don't put adverbs between the verb and the object" https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/adverbs-and-adverb-phrases-position

but when I read a book, for example, Conan Doyle's narrative "Behind the Times", I find such examples that violate that alleged rule:

Dr. Winter (the subject) introduced (the simple predicate or the verb) into a wound (the adverbial modifier or adverb) a finger (the object).

Unless I haven't mixed up some Grammar terms, what accounts for this contradiction between the rule and the aforementioned sentence?


That statement in the dictionary is mostly accurate for the example sentence it describes, but it is a very poor universal rule.

? She plays very well the piano.

Generally speaking, this is an order that would not normally be used with this sentence. However, even though it's not idiomatic, it's not actually ungrammatical. (Unless you consider its extreme uncommonness to be a sign of ungrammaticality.)

The essential statement is that we don't put an adverb after a verb, but this is not a good universal rule.

Although adverb+verb is more common than verb+adverb, both are possible.

Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that she quickly ran is about half again as common as she ran quickly:

she quickly ran versus she ran quickly

Interestingly, note that from 1827 to 1994, she ran quickly was more common.

Adding an object to the verb doesn't make an essential difference:

she quickly ran to him versus she ran quickly to him

In short, the Cambridge Dictionary guidance in this case is not so much about valid syntax, but about common style and usage.

However, while the statement is mostly accurate with respect the particular example sentence it picked, it's not nearly as accurate with respect to every example of verb+adverb+object usage.

Writers can change the normal order of sentences for stylistic effect, in order to put more emphasis on certain things.

In the example passage from Behind the Times, the normal sentence order was changed in order to put more emphasis on the wound than on the finger.

  • In your second graph you add the prepositional object "to him". What about the direct object and the adverb of place? You've described the adverb of manner which doesn't contradict to my Grammar books - I see no problem with "She (quickly) ran (quickly) to him". So, basically, it just comes down to writers' inclination (being true artists and all) to violate rules, isn't it?
    – Rusletov
    Aug 8 '20 at 11:05
  • 1
    @Rusletov There isn't really such a thing as "rules" here. There is only common style. There is nothing that says sentences must be constructed in a certain order. Even the main SVO order can be changed. It looks and sounds strange, but it's still understandable and not actually wrong. (The famous example is Yoda from the Star Wars movies. He spoke English, just not standard English.) Aug 8 '20 at 11:11
  • Since when has "to him" been an object?
    – BillJ
    Aug 8 '20 at 14:36
  • @BillJ sorry, to be more precise, it's what my grammar book calls "the indirect prepositional object". I (subject) gave (simple predicate) an ice-cream (direct object) to him (indirect prepositional object)
    – Rusletov
    Aug 8 '20 at 14:52
  • @Rusletov Your grammar book is wrong, I'm afraid. The PP "to him" is complement of "ran", but "him" is the object of the preposition "to", not of the verb "ran", which has no object. The expression "She ran quickly to him" is thus irrelevant to your original question, since "quickly" is not in fact intervening between the verb and its object, which was what your original question was about.
    – BillJ
    Aug 9 '20 at 7:18

Dr. Winter (the subject) introduced (the simple predicate or the verb) into a wound (the adverbial modifier or adverb) a finger (the object).

Generally, objects can be postposed over PPs, AdvPs and NPs. In the following examples, the bracketed objects are postposed over the italicised expressions:

[1] They bought with them [an extraordinarily lavish lunch]. [PP]

[2] have read very carefully [all the articles she has written]. [AdvP]

[3] I found rather more promising [the proposals that his sister had made]. [NP]

The major factor leading to the choice of postposing is relative weight. In [1], for example, the object NP is quite heavy in comparison with the PP complement "with them", and for this reason can readily be put at the end of the clause instead of in the dafault position immediately after the verb.

If, however, the object was simply "lunch", the basic order would normally be required, i.e. "They bought lunch with them".

Further, a postposed element occurs in a position that tends to receive greater phonological prominence and where complex material is easier to process.

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