Which is more natural?

  • We're getting a lot of new principals who, quite frankly, are not very skillful at handling student discipline.
  • We're getting a lot of new principals who are, quite frankly, not very skillful at handling student discipline.
  • 7
    What am I missing? Why is question so popular?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 6, 2022 at 18:23
  • 2
    I prefer the first option as the verb and its negation ("are not") are adjacent. It's less open to misinterpretation in written and spoken word.
    – Transistor
    Sep 6, 2022 at 18:45
  • 4
    I prefer the first.
    – RC_23
    Sep 7, 2022 at 2:27
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    3k views on a question which only asks which of the two sentences is more natural. The sentences contain a parenthetical phrase enclosed by commas, which makes it slightly more interesting but the answers are, quite frankly, just opinions. They do not add any helpful insights.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2022 at 5:03
  • 1
    Its actually pretty straightforward. The phrase "quite frankly" emphasizes the "are" in the former and "not" in the latter, but essentially keeps the meaning intact. Sep 7, 2022 at 9:25

4 Answers 4


Both are natural; both would be used, and both would be understood.

  • 1
    What about "We're getting a lot of new principals who aren't, quite frankly, very skillful at handling student discipline."? Is that more natural or is it stylistically weaker?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2022 at 5:43
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    @Mari-LouA Style is a matter of personal opinion, but, in my view, “aren’t, quite frankly” and “quite frankly are not” are stylistically equivalent because the negation is kept intact. With that said, all the variants strike me as acceptable in speech but weak for formal prose. What is meant is “Frankly, we have hired many new principals who have yet to become skilled in disciplining students.” Notice the way “we are getting” evades responsibility. Notice that placing “frankly,” in the subordinate clause does not claim honest speaking for the sentence as a whole. Sep 7, 2022 at 12:08

Both seem fine to me. All you are doing is changing where the linking verb "are" is! Both are natural to me too.

The linking verb can be moved around due to:

A linking verb connects the subject of a sentence with a word that gives information about the subject, such as a condition or relationship. They do not show any action; they simply link the subject with the rest of the sentence. Dictionary

Additionally, it is an auxiliary verb, a form of "be", and in this case:

Auxiliary verbs always go before main verbs. Source

Therefore the "are" is always before the main verb "handling", so the meaning doesn't change.

  • 8
    I'd argue that it's actually the parenthetical "quite frankly" that's moving - between applying to "are not very skilful" and just to "not very skilful". The overall sentiment is identical, of course. Sep 6, 2022 at 10:28
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    The citation doesn't explain why the position of the auxiliary verb "be" can change position as in the OP's example. It doesn't give any examples where the same copula (linking verb) changes position. None of the answers here do a good job of explaining why the meaning is unaffected.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2022 at 4:56
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    +1 because this answer has attempted to explain.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2022 at 5:10

Agreeing with other answers, giving some of my own exposition:

By analogy:

I have a dog who, quite frankly, eats cat poop.
I have a dog who eats, quite frankly, cat poop.

The part after "quite frankly" is what you are being frank about, and perhaps you consider it a sensitive or off-color subject. So in the first case, you're sensitive that your dog eats cat poop -- a nasty thing he is prone to do -- while in the second case, you're sensitive that cat poop is what he eats -- a nasty thing he eats, you expect him to eat something but not that. These are very, very close in meaning.

In your original sentence pair, it's even less of a distinction, because the verb is a verb of being and not action. You're sensitive about either "they are-not-skillful" -- an unfortunate combined condition of being -- or else that they are not-skillful -- an unfortunate attribute that they present. These are also extremely close in meaning.

Most listeners won't even think this hard about what you're saying. Go ahead and use whichever you want; both are acceptable.

  • 3
    When I read "I have a dog who eats, quite frankly, cat poop.", my intuition is that the "cat poop" part is actually ironic and not literal, and that the interjected "quite frankly" is intended to mark that irony. I somehow don't get that sense with the first example. Sep 6, 2022 at 23:52

I agree with the above answers that both are fine. That said, if I were to nitpick, I like the first option slightly more.

  • 5
    This doesn't add much to the existing answers. It is an answer, but if you are going to answer, please try to add som explanation or reason. If you prefer one choice, please indicate why, or explin s relevant rule, if there is one. Sep 6, 2022 at 17:14
  • 3
    I didn't give a "rule" because I don't have one. I also didn't give explanation because it's hard to explain. Hence both options are really acceptable. That said, when the questioner asks "Which is more natural?", I think it is possible that they would find it useful for answerers to not only say that both are grammatically "correct", but also indicate which "sounds nicer". And to me, the first option "sounds nicer" even if I can't put my finger on precisely why.
    – Plonetheus
    Sep 6, 2022 at 18:16
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    Fine, but some additional content would be an improvement in my view. Explain why there isn't a rule perhaps. Sep 6, 2022 at 22:37
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    Because there is no difference in meaning between the two and there is nothing grammatically incorrect with either, expressing what a native speaker finds more natural is relevant. It is of course better to explain why it is more natural. I agree that the first option is better style for the reason given by Translator as a comment to the OP, namely it is easier to parse if the negation is not broken up. However, I doubt the OP was looking for subtle aspects of style and was interested in meaning and grammar. Sep 7, 2022 at 0:47
  • 2
    This is fine as a comment, not as a fully-fledged answer. Opinions are not verifiable. I also realize that none of the other answers posted are supported, and only one cites a reference connected to the auxiliary verb "be" but it too fails to give any other examples.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2022 at 4:47

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