Is there a rule I could tell the difference between:

  • Both A and B have other attributes that distinguish them more completely.
  • Both A and B have other attributes that more completely distinguish them.
  • I've altered the examples to avoid using the verb 'describe' (which is normally reserved for volitional agents) and the hint of the pleonastic sounding 'attributes that tell us about'. I hope the question is meant to be about the placement of the adverbial. Dec 3, 2013 at 11:53

1 Answer 1


Adverbs and adverbials (the superset, strings modifying verbs) have considerable freedom to appear at various places in sentences. In the that-clause here, 'more completely' is the adverbial, and cannot be separated. It would make sense to have it next to the verb ('distinguish') it modifies:

-1. that more completely distinguish them

-2. *that distinguish more completely them

but the second possibility is unacceptable with a short direct object. This is not the case with a longer following string:

-2'. that distinguish more completely between butterflies and moths

It is more usual, however, to place the adverbial in terminal position after a short string:

-3. that distinguish them more completely

  • I have concerns about the way in which 'distinguish' is being used. If it is in the sense of differentiating them from one another, then the opening word 'both' is superfluous. It is like saying 'both the twins had different features'. The presence of 'both' suggests there are two sets of twins. So if that is the meaning of 'distinguish', all you need say is 'A and B have attributes which distinguish them more completely'.
    – WS2
    Jan 2, 2014 at 14:03
  • @WS2 It depends. Perhaps we are distinguishing A and B from C and D, and to a lesser extent from E.
    – choster
    Jan 2, 2014 at 16:43

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