Please help me with placing of "probably" in negative sentences.

My workbook says that 'probably' comes before helping verb. For example,

Anna probably won't be in class tomorrow


Anna probably isn't going to be in class tomorrow.

So I did some exercises and the answers for them doesn't match with this rule. The same workbook also suggest sentences like this:

They are probably going to invite.
They are probably NOT going to invite


I'm probably going.
I'm probably NOT going.

So what's the rule? Should we place it before or after 'to be' and auxiliary words?

  • You say that the answers to the exercises do not match the rule, could you give examples of those answers and explain why you think that they don't match the rule. It could be that you are misinterpreting the answers and we may be able to help you with the interpretation.
    – BoldBen
    Jun 23, 2021 at 7:38
  • The term 'helper verb' isn't used by linguists. If modal auxiliaries are also considered, 'Anna should probably not go' is more natural sounding than 'Anna probably should not go' (though the latter is not ungrammatical, and neither are two other placings of the 'speaker's evaluation sentence adverb' – in fact, directly after 'not' is the only dubious placing, and offsetting commas arguably license even this to show an afterthought). Different placings are used to show different emphases. This is far from simple, and beginners' rules are bound to fail sooner or later ... usually, sooner. Jun 23, 2021 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


There is no contradiction in the answers to your exercises. The same sentence can be written in two ways:

Anna probably isn't going to be in class tomorrow.


Anna is probably not going to be in class tomorrow.

If you use a contraction, it is impossible to put probably after the auxiliary is (which is the rule) and before the negation.

About these rules Wordreference says

If the verb is be, put probably AFTER IT.

  • You're probably right.
  • He is probably a businessman.

In a negative sentence, if you are using a contraction such as won't or can't [and here I would add isn't], you put probably IN FRONT OF THE CONTRACTION.

  • They probably won't help.
  • They probably don't want you to go

There are however exceptions in case of emphasis:

Adverbs usually come after the main verb be, except in emphatic clauses. When be is emphasised, the adverb comes before the verb:

  • Why should I have gone to see Madonna? I never was a fan of hers. (emphatic) (Cambridge)

or like in Edwin's example from the comment:

He probably is a businessman.

This NGram, however, shows that such emphatic statements are not as common, though yes, they do exist.

  • 2
    In addition, there's the complication of stressed rather than unmarked sentences: << He probably is a businessman. >> Jun 23, 2021 at 10:12
  • @EdwinAshworth One more addition :-) : In answer to a question, when nothing follows the verb to be: "Is he still waiting around for that award?" "He probably is."
    – fev
    Jun 23, 2021 at 10:17
  • The first usage guideline from Wordreference is a gross oversimplification at best. There are numerous instances, in well-edited publications, of probably being placed before be both in its lexical and auxiliary uses in sentences without negation. E.g. In a vacuum, crowds probably are very wise (Are librarians totally obsolete?; Sherman, Will; Teacher Librarian Oct2007, Vol. 35 Issue 1). Sources cited on EL&U should take a comprehensive view of the English Language, not peddle simplistic guidelines suitable for ESL learners.
    – DW256
    Jun 23, 2021 at 13:16
  • Thank you! I understand it now 😊 Jul 8, 2021 at 9:09

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