I looked up the adverb “hardly” in a dictionary and there was a sentence as an example:

The play was so boring, I could hardly keep myself from falling asleep.”

In the above sentence, “hardly” means “almost not”, based on the dictionary. Yet in my grammar textbook it is stated that some adverbs which come in the middle of sentence, usually come between the auxiliary verb and the main verb, if we have an auxiliary verb. For example:

"You've always been very kind to me."

I wondered if it is possible to paraphrase the sentence as follows:

The play was so boring, I couldn’t almost keep myself from falling asleep.”

I think the later sentence is wrong grammatically, but I don’t know why. Is the later sentence correct? If not, why?

  • Are you sure that's what the grammar book says? If adverbs came between the auxiliary and the main verb, you'd see verb phrases like "I can't well sing" instead of "I can't sing well". The term "in the middle of a sentence" is somewhat ambiguous. Can you clarify what the grammar book says exactly?
    – kandyman
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 17:22
  • Thank you, I edited it.
    – shapoor
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


This isn't a complete answer but here's my take:

In 'Practical English Usage' (p25), Swan says that mid-position adverbs (like 'almost') can come before modal auxiliaries (or after):

She could have easily been killed = She could easily have been killed

However, it doesn't explicitly distinguish between affirmative and negative sentences, and I feel that there might be a difference.

For example, your phrase "I couldn’t almost keep myself" sounds unnatural to me, but "I almost couldn't keep myself" sounds fine. I think the issue might be that (for me, anyway) 'almost' feels like it is modifying the modal rather than the main verb. The 'almost' is referring to the ability of can/cannot rather than keep/not keep. So it sounds more natural to me to say "almost couldn't". In negative sentences, I prefer the word order Adverb-Modal Verb-Main Verb (for this particular word).

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