Misplaced adverbs are common, according to Claire Cook (22), and even experienced writers may have trouble discerning the best placement for an adverb. The following guidance will help you put your adverbs exactly where they belong.

Adverbs with One-Word Verbs

Sentences with one-word verbs represent the simplest scenario. By convention, an adverb appears between the subject and the verb in such sentences.

I quickly opened the door.

Avoid placing an adverb between a verb and its object, as doing so may result in an awkward sentence:

I opened quickly the door.

In some cases the adverb can follow the object, as long as it stays close to the verb.

I opened the door quickly.

If an adverb in such a position gets too far away from the verb, its placement may be distracting for readers.

I rode the bike with four gears, a broken bell, and upturned handlebars slowly.

When the verb doesn’t take an object, you can place the adverb before or after the verb, depending on your desired emphasis.

The river flowed languorously.

Adverbs with Verb Phrases of Two or More Words

When your verb phrase has two or more words, you can place an adverb after the first word of the phrase.

You would certainly know if the kettle was boiling.

In the above example, the adverb “certainly” appears after the first word in the verb phrase “would know.” Likewise, in the next example the adverb “often” appears after the first word in the verb phrase “has been said.”

It has often been said that the early bird gets the worm.

In some verb phrases of three or more words, the most appropriate placement for the adverb is right before the participle. In the next example, the adverb “graciously” precedes the participle “received” in the verb phrase “had been received”:

The ambassador reported that her gift had been graciously received.

You know the adverb goes right before the participle if the adverb and the participle can be easily converted into an adjective and a noun, respectively. For instance, “graciously received” converts to “gracious reception.” Now consider the following example:

She has been justly accused of plagiarism.

Here the adverb “justly” goes before the participle “accused” because the two words easily convert to the adjective-noun pair “just accusation.”

For comparison, let’s review an earlier example with a three-word verb phrase:

It has often been said that the early bird gets the worm.

The adverb “often” and the participle “said” cannot be converted into an adjective-noun pair, so they do not belong together. For this sentence, follow the general rule, and place the adverb after the first word in the verb phrase.

Ambiguous Adverbs

In some sentences it may be unclear what verb the adverb modifies.

What you do regularly affects how you feel.

Does the adverb “regularly” modify the verb “do” or the verb “affects” in the above example? Revise the sentence to avoid ambiguity.

Your routine behaviors affect how you feel.

For more on adverbs, see our posts on adverbs to avoid and on split infinitives.

Work Cited

Cook, Claire Kehrwald. Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

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Michael Simon

Michael Simon is assistant editor at the MLA. He received an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and a BA in comparative literature from Brown University. Before coming to the MLA, he worked as an editor for several academic publishers.