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Note the context variables can be automatically updated through the algorithm or by executing the action part of a contextual rule.

I found results for both "can be automatically updated" and "can automatically be updated" in Google. Which is correct or most common?

  • I'm pretty sure that both are fine, but which is more common is beyond me. FWIW, my natural choice is can automatically be updated. Also note that automatically seems to be able to appear in all positions: front, mid, and end. In the mid-position, it can even be used emphatically: automatically can ... (IMHO, the emphatic use seems to be more appropriate in speech.) – Damkerng T. Aug 18 '15 at 11:52
  • I think the position suggests what exactly the adverb modifies. If it is can be automatically updated, the automatically definitely refers to updated (and we imagine some kind of procedure that updates without human interference). If it is "automatically can be updated", then the automation seems to refer to the ability to update, changing the meaning ever slightly, IMHO. – Victor Bazarov Aug 18 '15 at 12:39
7
  1. It is updated automatically.
  2. It is automatically updated.
  3. It updates automatically.
  4. It [ ] automatically updates.

We can put adverbs of manner such as automatically either at the end of the verb phrase or after the auxiliary verb position. In sentence (1) we see the adverb at the end of the verb phrase. In sentence (2) we see the adverb after the passive auxiliary BE. Sentence (3), like sentence (1) has the adverb at the end of the verb phrase. In sentence (4) there is no auxiliary. However, we can still understand where the auxiliary verb would be, if there was one. It would go where the brackets, [ ], are. So in sentence (4) we still see the adverb after the auxiliary verb position.

However, sometimes there is more than one auxiliary. For example in the sentence:

  • It will have been updated.

Of course we can put the adverb at the end of the verb phrase here:

  • It will have been updated automatically.

But we can also put it after any of the different auxiliary verbs. Here there are three auxiliaries. There is the modal verb WILL, the perfect auxiliary HAVE and the passive auxiliary BE. The adverb can go after any of these auxiliaries. Each possibility is as good as the others. They are all good and perfectly natural English:

  • It will automatically have been updated.

  • It will have automatically been updated.

  • It will have been automatically updated.

You can choose which one sounds best to you!

The Original Poster's example:

  1. Note the context variables can be automatically updated ...
  2. Note the context variables can automatically be updated ...

Here there are two auxiliaries: the modal verb CAN and the passive auxiliary BE. The adverb can go after either one. Both patterns are very common and perfectly acceptable. The writer could also have written:

  1. Note the context variables can be updated automatically ...

Here the adverb comes after the verb phrase. This is also a fine option. It's good to have choices!

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  • Sorry to extend this accepted answer what is the rule that allows the adverb to go after the sentence "updated through the algorithm" but doesn't allow it to go after the entire sentence. Is it because the context is lost by the subsequent verb "executing"? – notidaho Apr 27 '18 at 10:45
  • @notidaho Well, if it went atthe end of the sentence we would tend to associate it with the last clause there executing the action part of a contextual rule automatically, which isn't what we want. However, there is another factor which is that automatically is an Adjunct (read adverbial). So is through the algorithm or by executing the action part of a contextual rule - more specifically it is a coordination of two Adjuncts. We prefer to put very long Adjuncts at the end of clauses after any shorter ones. Notice that the following would be ok: ...(cont) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 27 '18 at 15:07
  • @notidaho Note the context variables can be updated through the algorithm automatically <-- There the other adjunct is shorter and there is no other clause to make the automatically ambiguous. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 27 '18 at 15:09

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