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Position of adverbs

He ate quickly his breakfast.

Can you identify the adverb in the above sentence? I am sure that you know it is quickly but can you see what is wrong with the sentence? Out of a class of 14 advanced students, 5 made this mistake yesterday. That’s right!! 5. Five. FIVE. Clearly, the adverb is in the wrong place and these advanced students should have known this. They are all capable of scoring an overall IELTS band score of at least 7 but 5 of them still made this basic mistake. Do you know where the adverb should be in the sentence? More importantly, do you know why it must go there?

There are different types of adverbs. We divide them into different groups by what they “describe.” In our example sentence, quickly is an adverb of manner. It tells us how something is done. The position of this type of adverb must follow a specific pattern.

Adverbs of manner always follow the main verb in a sentence e.g.

subject + verb + adverb of manner

She sings beautifully.

He dances well.

She studied hard.

The adverb of manner must follow a direct object in a  sentence. In our example, his breakfast is the direct object.

The sentence should be :

subject + verb + direct object + adverb of manner

He ate his breakfast quickly.

Quickly can be an exception to this rule (as can some other adverbs if manner.) It can come before the main verb e.g.

He quickly ate his breakfast.

This doesn’t happen with all adverbs of manner. We cannot say this:

She beautifully sang that song.

It has to be:

She sang that song beautifully.

The basic adverb pattern above for adverbs of manner is always right though.

When you are learning or using adverbs, always check what type of adverb you are using and think about its position in your sentence. If you are serious about improving your English so that you can get a higher IELTS band score, you’ll think about my next questions before you skip to the answers. It’s good for you to know what you don’t know before you see the answers.

Look at the following sentences. They are all grammatically correct. Can you identify the adverb, say what type of adverb it is and then say what its position it is in the sentences? If you can do this, you are identifying the rules for the position of adverbs for yourself. I’ll trust you not to scroll to the answers until you have thought about this. I will know if you cheat!

1. He looked everywhere. He looked everywhere for the money. He looked for the money everywhere.

2. I saw her yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll see her again. We have not yet decided where to go. We will be together until the end of time.

3. I sometimes go there. He is always happy. She has often said she hates grammar. Sometimes I feel so sad.

4. The party didn’t finish until fairly late. I am just leaving. You really should stop smoking.

5. Honestly, I love you!!

Hopefully, you have spent at least 10 minutes thinking about the adverb types above and their positions in the sentences. If you haven’t, you should. It really is worth it.

The different adverb types are shown below. There is also a grammatical description of their place in the sentence.

1 adverbs of place – these say where something happens.

He looked everywhere. He looked everywhere for the money. He looked for the money everywhere.

subject + verb + adverb of place. If there is a prepositional phrase, the adverb of place can sometimes come before or after it.

2 adverbs of time – these say when something happens.

I saw her yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll see her again. We have not yet decided where to go. We will be together until the end of time.

These usually come at the beginning or the end of a sentence. Yet can come earlier in the sentence to add emphasis eg after the first auxiliary but it is usually found at the end of the sentence. Prepostitional phrases of time (until the end of time) come at the end of a sentence.

3 adverbs of frequency – these say how often something happens.

I sometimes go there. He is always happy. She has often said she hates grammar. Sometimes I feel so sad.

These are positioned before the main verb unless the main verb is to be. The come after an auxiliary verb eg as part of the present perfect simple. Sometimes can be at the beginning or end of a sentence.

4 adverbs of degree – these say how much something happens.

The party didn’t finish until fairly late. I am just leaving. You really should stop smoking.

These come before the adjective they modify e.g. fairly late, quite tall, reasonably easy. Just takes a mid-position in a sentence, often after the auxiliary and before the main verb. Really is often placed earlier in the sentence for emphasis. Really could follow should in the example above.

5 sentence adverbs – these give our opinion.

Honestly, I love you!!

These tell us how we feel about the sentence we are about to say. In the example, honestly means “please believe me because I believe this.” If we say I love you honestly, I am describing the manner of my love. Sentence adverbs come at the beginning of a sentence. Look at these examples:

Seriously, I think we should get down to business.

Here, seriously tells the listener I am not messing around.

Unfortunately, he failed his exam.

Here, unfortunately tells us how the speaker feels about the situation.

Sometimes, there is more than one adverb in a sentence. The most common pattern that you need to remember is:

manner + place + time

He worked hard in the garden today.

These rules are only the basics relating to the position of adverbs. There are many exceptions (as with everything in English!) Your job is to spot adverbs in texts that you read and look at the position they are in. You should then try to use these adverbs in your speaking an writing.

Can you correct these sentences?

  1. I ate quickly my dinner.

  2. I have never abroad travelled.

  3. We are going afterwards to a big party.

  4. I like never Mondays.

  5. She is leaving just.

If you have learned something by reading this post, why not buy me a cup of coffee? Many thanks.


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