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I have seen many English writers in India preferring to place "...ly" adverb before "be" in a sentence . They abhor placing "...ly" adverb immediately after "be".

For example, they prefer to write:

... this could slowly be done.

rather than writing:

... this could be slowly done.

Is there a grammatical basis to support such preference? Is the other one wrong?

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    Grammatically I don't think there's any fixed rule governing the position of slowly, but idiomatic preference massively favours putting it at the end - can be done slowly is practically infinitely more common than either can slowly be done or can be slowly done. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 16:25
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    @Rathony: My first reaction to that is - surely one of the most important aims of ELL is to disabuse querents of misunderstandings? In this case I must admit that although as a native speaker I know perfectly well where I can and where I can't vary the position of any given adverb (and if * can, whether the position affects meaning in any way), I can't offhand rattle off an answer summarising that knowledge. And I can't easily explain why adverb immediately after [TO BE] doesn't always work, but it's fine in, say, He was immediately arrested and handcufffed. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 13:30
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    @Rathony: After weaning has been accomplished the child can gradually be given more solid food.. More examples could easily be found to show that adverb before [TO BE] can sometimes be acceptable and/or preferred. For example, I had a bowl of cereal with milk and suddenly was overwhelmed with a sleepy feeling. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 14:03
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    @Rathony: Gimmie a break! I've got an honours degree in "English Language & Literature with Linguistics", and even I have trouble seeing the distinction you're making! The idea that this is some kind of "clear-cut rule", and the implication that OP's failure to understand this rule somehow justifies peremptorily closing the question seems unreasonable to me. It is after all a learner's site. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 16:40
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    @Rathony: Well, I'm sure les immortels would like to think of themselves as "authorities", but in practice they don't accurately control or describe modern French usage (which like all languages is governed by what people actually say, rather than what someone says they should or do say). For my money, no other language has "authorities" that come close to, say, the OED, or McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:51

3 Answers 3

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This could slowly be done.

This could be slowly done.

Slowly is an adverb of manner. You usually use it in end position such as this could be done slowly.

However. It can be used in mid position. Both the sentences presented above are correct. Athough most of the grammar books state to use the adverb after the first auxiliary as in the first sentence, some people use it after the second auxiliary as in the second sentence.

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You can mostly place adverbs wherever you like. However, the basic rule comes to this:

1.- place the adverb after the correct form of be.
2.- place the adverb before the verb when there's no be.
3.- place the adverb before the verb when there's no be and after a modal verb. (can, may, would, could, etc)


1.- This could be slowly done.
2.- You could slowly do this.
3.- We slowly do this.

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  • I can't endorse this answer unless it specifically points out that This could be done slowly is by far the preferred sequence for such constructions. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 16:26
  • To FumbleFingers: sir, I agree that "...can be done slowly" is a better construction. But, let us narrow ourselves to the question: why do they out of the two constructions "... this could slowly be done" and "... this could be slowly done" prefer the former one? Is there a grammatical basis? Is "... this could be slowly done" equally correct from the grammatical point of view? Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:02
  • @Ale, why not add figures/charts as to the frequency per position provided (including FumbleFingers') That'd be helpful.
    – shin
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:04
  • Is this an Indian English thing? As a UK/Canadian English speaker I'm with FumbleFingers otherwise. Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:10
  • @DJClayworth I don't think it is an Indian thing. A basic grammar book teaches that way. I am also with FumbleFingers but "this could be slowly done" is not wrong.
    – user24743
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:17
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The preferred placement in standard English is "This could be done slowly." The other constructs are not wrong, but they are jarring.

In the same way that Yoda's speech is not grammatically wrong - it's just weird and nigh-on unique.

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  • I don't agree that the first one is jarring – at least, not in all instances. For example: We must quickly walk to the store. Our team could gradually improve. Those don't necessarily sound jarring to me.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 20:18
  • I wasn't claiming the construct could never be used - simply that in the specific cases asked about, it was jarring. I agree entirely about the acceptability of * Our team could gradually improve*. I'm much less agreeable over We must quickly walk.... I've not yet managed to analyse specifically why. "To gently go" seems fine to me, for example. Perhaps because it has a history of literary use.
    – Euan M
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 6:27

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