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Where should I place the adverb?

  1. Potentially, it could be moved back to where it was.
  2. It could be potentially moved back to where it was.
  3. It could potentially be moved back to where it was.

Should it directly precede the verb "moved"? Or ahead of "be moved"? Or in front of the whole statement?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I believe that potentially would be considered an adverb of certainty in this context. The adverb should be placed after the first auxiliary verb could, so the answer is number three from your list:

It could potentially be moved back to where it was.

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This. Number 1 also sounds possible to me, though somewhat informal; number 2 doesn't work, though it wouldn't sound like a mistake in speech if intoned correctly, just a bit sloppy. –  Billy Nov 25 '11 at 3:58
    
@Billy, I think you're correct, based on my quick search it appears that adverbs of certainty can 'sometimes' be used at the beginning of sentences. I think the issue is that doing so may change the tone of the sentence in an unwanted way. Consider 'You will surely pass this exam' vs 'Surely you will pass this exam'. The former conveys confidence, the latter is almost accusatory, suggesting you'd have to be an idiot not to pass the exam. –  Snubian Nov 25 '11 at 4:12
    
I think Barrie answers this in his reply, in that an adverb of certainty could also fall into the category of "linking, viewpoint or stance" if it is referring to something in a previous sentence. –  misteraidan Nov 30 '11 at 23:56
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There are three positions for adverbs in a sentence, front, middle and end. Front and end mean what they say. Middle can be either after the first auxiliary verb, after be as a finite verb, or before any other finite verb if there is no auxiliary verb. Linking, viewpoint and stance adverbs generally occur at the front; degree, frequency and adding or limiting adverbs generally occur in the middle; and manner, place and time adverbs generally occur at the end.

The difficulty in your example lies in deciding what kind of adverb potentially is. It doesn’t fit readily into any of the above categories. It could be seen as a stance or viewpoint adverb, in which case it would go at the front, as in (1). However, I’d be inclined to see it as a limiting adverb. It would then go in the middle, as in (3), where it appears after the first auxiliary could.

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I think in the context of where I used this it would be seen as a linking, viewpoint or stance adverb. However when limited to the scope of this question, it would have to be called an adverb of certainty. I liked this answer more as it explained the difference between the options, however Snubian gets the tick on a technicality. –  misteraidan Nov 28 '11 at 0:16
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