Verb and its modifier

November 7, 2011

It is impossible to establish fixed rules for the correct placing of verb modifiers in English sentences.  Certain patterns of order, however, occur with great frequency and my be taken as guides.

1. With important exceptions which will be treated  below, most verb modifiers follow the verb.  If the verb is transitive, they also follow its objects (direct and indirect).

Complement
Subject Verb Object Verb Modifier
He went home.
I ate supper at home.
Come here.
She spoke softly.
He answered me promptly.
Roberto teaches Spanish five nights a week.
Maria swims daily.
He left last night.
They visited us two years ago.
We turned left.

2. When two or more modifiers follow a verb (and its objects) there is a tendency to arrange them in order according to type.  The most common order pattern is:

Place

Manner

Frequency

Time

Purpose (or reason)

SUBJECT VERB OBJECT PLACE MANNER/ MEANS FREQUENCY TIME REASON OR PURPOSE
We drink coffee in the snack bar every morning at 9:20.
I drive my car extra carefully when its wet.
He walks to work all the time to save money.
We get our pay by check every month.
 I will travel to Mexico this weekend for a change.
That students writes (to) his parents in English for practice.
I see her at the symphony occasionally.
I will ask him again tonight to be sure.
They drove to Laredo in their new car every weekend last month.
Put out the lights in the rest rooms when you leave.
We are going to their house next Wednesday night for dinner.

3. Although phrase and clause modifiers usually follow the verb and its objects (if any)  there is a large class of single word adverbs of frequency, time, or manner that may either precede or follow.  The most import of these are:

Frequency Time Manner
often
sometimes
occasionally
regularly
repeatedly
frequently
eventually
finally
already
recently
quickly
slowly
gradually
gladly
hurriedly
patiently
promptly
carefully

Generally speaking, such adverbs receive more stress when spoken before the verb and are therefore more emphatic in that position. There is also a tendency, when several verb modifiers are used, to place the single adverbs before the verb rather than after it.  In this way the complement is less crowded and the whole sentence is more balanced.

Example:

  • He returned my book promptly.
  • He promptly returns the books to the library when they are due.
  • He’s called me several times recently.
  • We recently visited them at they new home in Dallas.

4. The frequency adverbs usually, always, seldom, never and ever; and the duration adverb still, pattern regularly before the main verb (except be).

Subject Adverb Verb Complement
I never see you at the club these days.
He always drinks his coffee black.
We usually go downtown on Saturday.
They seldom write to us any more.
She still intends to make the trip.

Note:  Ever does not occur in affirmative statements.  It is used only in negative statements, or in affirmative or negative questions.

Example:

  • Don’t ever say that again!
  • Have you ever been to New York?
  • Haven’t you ever heard her sign?

Notice the pattern with forms of the question word DO

Form of Do Subject Modifier Verb Complement
Did he frequently go to town?
Does John usually sleep late on Sunday?
Do students often ask questions?

In general with the forms of BE the frequency adverb immediately follows the verb in the statement pattern.

Subject Verb Complement
He is always late to class.
We are usually in the Park.
Julio is often sick.
They are never at home.

In the question, the frequency adverb patterns as follows:

Complement
Subject Verb Modifier
He is always late to class.
Complement
Subject Verb Modifier
Is he always late to class?

In general the frequency adverb immediately follows the auxiliary or modal as in the following examples:

Subject Aux. or modal Modifier Verb Complement
He can never remember her name.
Lt. Smith has always been friendly.
I have seldom asked a favor.
You should occasionally visit him.

Note: In the question the frequency adverb patterns as follows.

Subject Aux. or modal Modifier Verb Complement
He has always been present.
He should always be present.

Note to 3 & 4 above: If the frequency adverb is itself modified by another adverb, this modifier directly precedes the frequency adverb.

Examples:

  • He is almost always late.
  • She has hardly ever been away from home.

5. Adverb clauses of time, place, manner and reason or purpose usually follow the verb.

Subject Verb Adverbial Complement (clause)
Time He left when the party was over.
Place They lived where the climate was warm.
Manner The teacher spoke as though she knew her subject.
Reason The student apologized because he was late.
Purpose We saved up so that we could buy a car.

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