Submitted by Windy Road on May 11, 2011

Usage rules for adverbs

An article I was writing recently came back to me with this suggested edit: “commitment to proactively address the issues” was changed to “address proactively the issues.” This grates on my ear, and I’m interested in this forum’s insights. My quick research suggests that adverbs usually follow “be” verbs, but there are complicated usage rules for other than “be” verbs, and in many cases, adverbs correctly come before the verb.


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oh, dear. The grammatical issue here MIGHT be splitting the infinitive "to proactively address" as "to boldly go (where no man has gone before)." Adverbs may go before or after, but if it were MY article, I would go with "to address the issues proactively" because "address proactively the issues," while technically correct, sounds like Yoda-speak to my ears.

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The original sentence is fine, and splitting infinitives is quite common, though there will always be pedants who insist that it's "not allowed." (It's not even *possible* in most of the languages English descends from, so the genealogy of the rule is pretty suspect) I dislike the new version of the sentence ("to address proactively the issues") because it separates the verb from its object which, though not incorrect, sounds awkward. "To proactively address the issues" or "to address the issues proactively" keep the verb and object together, and both versions sound, I think, much better.

On splitting infinitives, it might be wise to consider the quote usually attributed to Winston Churchill on ending sentences with prepositions —"This is the sort of errant criticism up with which I will not put!"— and prefer grace over strict adherence to unwieldy rules.

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Normal word order in English is Subject Verb Object Manner Place Time (SVOMPT)
Some adverbs (especially of frequency) are usually placed between subject and verb (as in this sentence). Also question words such as "how" may head the senTence. Apart from this moving adverbs to another position may be done to put a short adverb before a long adverbial phrase, but we DO expect the object to follow IMMEDIATELY after the verb. Word order is important for comprehension in English as the language is largely uninflected. Contrast for example Russian where word order is much freeer as relationships are indicated by the endings of the words. So whatever you do with "proactively" in this case don't split the verb and object.

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Ah, so there is a reason it sounds wrong. Thanks Jayles.

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Thank you all! It was more complicated than I expected: a good grammar learning experience.

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I think that the sticklers for never splitting an infinitive were a few of the very old teachers when I was still very young, and I'm almost 50 now.

My guess is that it's just an old rule that few adhere to now. "To boldly go" sounds better to most people than "To go boldly." And I'd bet you'd find that example all over the Internet if you searched.

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Nicely put, Jayles. ;)

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you're not meant to erroneously split the infinitive

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