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How does one decide whether an adverb of manner should precede or follow the verb?

In some cases, it seems to be more natural to have the adverb follow the verb, as in:

“She moved slowly and spoke quietly.”

But in other cases, it seems to be more natural to have the adverb precede the verb, as in:

“The minister solemnly addressed his congregation.”

But I can’t work out why this is the case. Is there a general rule to follow to decide where to place the adverb? Does it have anything to do with whether the verb is used transitively or intransitively?

  • It's a matter of focus, or emphasis. In "she moved slowly", the stress is on slowly, in "she slowly moved" it's on moved. Likewise, "The minister solemnly addressed his congregation" has a different emphasis from "the minister addressed his congregation solemnly". But both are possible, grammatical, and idiomatic. – RegDwigнt Dec 30 '13 at 13:42
  • There seems to be an overlapping idiosyncrasy too. He quietly spoke to the poor woman. He spoke quietly to the poor woman. He spoke loudly to the poor woman. ?He loudly spoke to the poor woman. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 30 '13 at 16:17
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Adverbs of manner are usually placed at the end of the clause/sentence. However, it is possible to place the adverb before the verb, to emphasize the adverb.

He ate the cake greedily.
She greedily ate the cake.

Some put adverbs of manner at the beginning of a sentence, to catch the reader's attention and make him/her curious:

Greedily, heedlessly, he ate the cake.

Adverbs of manner should be placed after intransitive verbs.

She often sneezes violently.

I think you have an excellent ear. I don't think there are rules which will uniformly help you.

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Adverbs can fall between the subject and the verb, or after the object, but never between the verb and the object. If the verb is intransitive, of course, there is no object and the rule doesn't apply.

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