Adverb Placement

In this lesson you’ll learn what adverbs and adverb phrases are and how these should be put in your sentences.

Diagram: Safe & Dangerous Places For Adverbs

Lesson: Adverb & Adverb Phrase Placement

Adverbs And Adverb Phrases

Adverbs describe how verbs happen or are just like how adjectives describe how nouns are.

He’s wearing a red hat. Adjective: red.
He walks fast. Adverb: fast.

Adverbs can be single words or two or more words each. When they’re two or more words they’re called adverb phrases.

Adverb: fast.
Adverb phrase: like the wind.

There are a few ways that adverbs and adverb phrases can say “how” verbs happen or are. They can say:

– when: I had a party yesterday.
– where: A lot of people were there.
– why: It was for my best friend’s birthday.|
– how often: I don’t throw parties often.
– any other how: People acted like fools.

The Basic Structure Of English Sentences

Synthetic And Analytical Languages

Besides through the meanings of words themselves, languages express meanings through 1) changing word forms, and 2) having rules for the order that words that have a particular relationship should come in.

The more meaning is expressed through word forms instead of word placement, the more a language is said to be synthetic. Synthetic, because new word forms are synthesized by speakers constantly depending on what meaning they want to express. These languages don’t have strict rules for ordering words, because they don’t need them. The meaning is all in the words themselves.

The more meaning is expressed by putting words in particular places relative to each other instead of changing forms, the more a language is said to be analytical – because meaning comes from an understanding of relationships between words in different places. In these languages, without the right word order, meaning is lost.

English is close to the end of the analytical side of the spectrum. Compared with other languages, it doesn’t have very many word form changes and does have lots rules for what order words have to come in. (Chinese would be even closer to the analytical end of the spectrum, and Russian is near the opposite, synthetic end.)

Subjects, Verbs, And Objects

The rules about word order important for our understanding about where to put adverb phrases are about where three sentence parts should be relative to each other. These parts are:

– subjects – nouns that do verbs,
– verbs – things that are or are done, and
– objects – nouns that verbs are done to

subject does -> verb (state or action) -> to object

Germans (subject) eat (verb) sauerkraut (object).

Except for in questions and passive sentences, the subject should come the first of the three, then the verb, then the object, if there is an object. We always need subject (even if sometimes they are only implied, as in commands – (you) do your homework), and we always need verbs, but objects are optional. For some verbs they are impossible.

Think about the verb “to go”. No place that a person ever goes is actually the object of going there – because doing that doesn’t really do anything to it. It doesn’t use it, change it, or affect in any other important way. Or at least we don’t think of that as being possible. Compare with the act of chopping a carrot or eating a sandwich. The verbs chopping and eating affect the objects carrot and sandwich in direct and material ways.

I went to the deli.
I ate a sandwich there.

A place that you mention after using to go will actually be an adverb phrase that says how a verb happens – here, how is where we ended up from going.

Understanding The Difference Between Objects And Adverb Phrases

My way of thinking about and presenting adverb phrases to you is different than what you’ll find in other books (if you find anything at all). But that’s because I’m right and they’re wrong. Really. Seriously. They say other things, and those things are stupid.

In particular, they often include a 3rd category of words somewhere in between objects, which are always acted on directly, and adverb phrases, which it calls indirect objects. This is a useless term idea and it’s much better to think of anything that anybody else calls an indirect object as an adverb phrase.

So how else to distinguish between objects and adverb phrases? Another way (other than thinking about whether the verb acts directly on the noun that comes after it) is to look at whether there’s a preposition between the verb and the noun. If there is, it isn’t an object, and most of the time it’ll be an adverb phrase.

They talked about the weather.
He woke up from a strange dream.
She was in a hurry.

Where Adverb Phrases Go

So far we have

subject          verb          [object]

but haven’t said where the 4th thing that we’ve been talking about, adverb phrases, go. Part of the reason for this is that they can move around depending on the adverb phrase and the speaker’s message and style.

At The End Is Good

By far the most popular place for them (and safest for you to put them in) is at the end – after the object if there is one and after the verb if there isn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an adverb phrase put here that sounded wrong or even strange. It’s a great place for them just about always.

subject          verb          [object]     😀

There are other places they can go too, but first let’s talk about where they can’t go.

Between The Verb And The Object Is Bad (Death)

Where you should practically never put them is between the verb and the object. Doing this sounds really bad. Equate it with death for your sentence. There are almost no exceptions to this rule either, except that there’s one major one that learning about should strengthen your conceptualization of the subject and help you to avoid another kind of error.

Think about this example.

I gave her flowers.

If I told you there were an object and an adverb phrase here, what would you say each are? Think. What is actually being given. Her? No. Flowers. That’s the object. That’s what the verb does something with. And so her – that’s an adverb? Yes, let’s look closer. How could we say this sentence in another way without changing the meaning at all?

I gave her flowers = I gave flowers to her.

Do you see? There’s no difference in the meaning, but now the ‘her’ has a preposition (‘to’) in front of it, which makes it look like an adverb phrase(which it is), and is in a good and not the wrong place for adverb phrases.

So why not the preposition and why the wrong placement in the first sentence? It’s an exception that we make for some verbs that we use a lot. We also do this with tell:

I told them my opinion.

Same kind of thing. The object is ‘my opinion’. That’s what you actually tell. Who you tell is a detail about how the verb happens and is therefore an adverb.

I told her my opinion = I told my opinion to her.

Other verbs that we do this with are do, get, make, give, tell, ask and lots of others.

The most practical reason to understand this last point is so as not to make the mistake of using “to” before the adverb phrase’s noun that is put right after the verb – so in the exception case.

A lot of people want to say things like this:

I made for my friend a cake. -> I made my friend a cake OR I made a cake for my friend.
I told to them the secret. -> I told them the secret OR I told the secret to them.

Wanting to do this comes from a correct intuition that these shortened adverb phrases are actually adverb phrases, without knowing that they need to be shortened.

Other Places Adverb Phrases Can Go

So far we have that adverb phrases are doing fine at the end, after the object, and shouldn’t go between the verb and the object.

subject verb ☠ [object] 😀

The two places left are before the subject and between the subject and the verb. Both places are possible adverb phrases but might be wrong. The end is the only pretty safe place for all adverb phrases.
As of this writing, I don’t have the hard data on this, but of the two, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the first (before the subject) is OK more often (adverbs of time and place work fine there, for example). The second (between the subject and the verb) is for adverbs of frequency (sometimes, often, usually, from time to time, etc).

🙂 subject 🙂 verb ☠ object 😀

Lesson: What Learners Get Wrong With Adverb Phrases & How To Avoid It

The Mistake English Learners Make

Adverbial phrases are PHRASES  (groups of words rather than individual words) that say how, where, when, and why verbs happen. “on the top shelf” in the sentence “On the top shelf there’s a box with the key in it” is an adverbial phrase. So is “with courage and determination” in the sentence “He with courage and determination took control of the group and led it to greatness” and “In the morning” in “I wrote her in the morning“.
The mistake that most learners make with these is to put them in the wrong parts of sentences relative to where the sentences’ subjects, verbs, and objects are.

What To Understand To Avoid This Mistake

Three Places Where Adverbial Phrases Can Go

There are three places that you can put adverbial phrases. These are 1) before the subject, 2) between the subject and the verb, and 3) after the object, or after the verb if there is no object.

There are examples of each of these in the three sentences above: “On the top shelf there’s a box with the key in it”; “He with courage and determination took control of the group and led it to greatness”; and “I wrote her in the morning“.

Where Not To Put Adverbial Phrases

The one place where it is practically always wrong and VERY BAD to put adverbial phrases and that is between the verb and the object if there is an object.

For example, “I ate for lunch a sandwich” sounds very very bad and horrible to a “native listeners” because “for lunch” is between the verb and the object and we hate this! You could even say we can’t stand it! Don’t do this. Big fluency killer.

In this case,”for lunch” would be ok in any one of the other three allowed places that you read about before. Not all adverbial phrases will fit in any and all of these places though. It depends.

A Safe Place To Put Your Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial phrases are usually put “at the end”: after the object if there is one or after the verb if there is no object. It is also almost always correct to put them in this place, which makes it a “safe place” and it a good strategy to get into the habit of putting them there just always.

Adverbial Phrases Advice

Try to develop a “gut feeling” for what adverbial phrases are and when you’re using them. You can do this. After that, where you feel an adverbial phrase “coming on” and about find its way into one of your sentences, PUT IT AT THE END – after the object, or after the verb if there is no object. And do this always, unless you feel very confident about whether you can put it in either of the other two OK places (before the subject and between the subject and verb) because it’s easy to get this wrong – there are a lot of times when putting them in these places won’t work. Finally and even more importantly, develop a stylistic psychological loathing and HATRED for putting these between the verb and the object. This really sounds terrible to us. Maybe the worst of everything. Really.

Exercise: Adverb & Adverb Phrase Placement

  1. on my way to the store -> ?     A    , I saw      B     your sister      C    

    show answer



  2. slowly -> ?     A    , H/he sipped     B     his wine      C     while soaking in the music and the fire. 

    show answer



  3. every Sunday -> ?     A     T/they     B     spend the day      C     out doing something      D    together      E    

    show answer

    A, C, E


  4. at work -> ?     A     D/did     B     you      C     have       D     a busy day      E     today       F    

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    E, F


  5. this morning -> ?      A    , D/did      B     you      C     eat      D     breakfast      E    ?

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  6. on my way to the store -> ?      A    , I saw      B     your sister      C    

    show answer



  7. very much -> ?     A    , E/everyone     B     in our group      C     liked      D     the movie      E    

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  8. at the convention -> ?     A    , Do you think     B     a lot of our clients      C     will      E     be       F    ?

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  9. at the convention -> ?     A    , Do you think     B     a lot of our clients      C     will      E     be       F    ?

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  10. right before she called -> ?     A    , I     B     realized      C     that I was late      E     for our meeting      F    .

    show answer

    A, C, F