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Here's my problem:

I've been confused about the placement of adverbs in present/past perfect phrases. For example, which sentence would sound better:

"We had been slowly drifting down the river when a bear attacked."

or

"We had slowly been drifting down the river when a bear attacked."

Personally, I'd go with the former, and this led me to believe that if the sentence contains both "had been" and a verb, the adverb should be placed after "had been"--if the adverb is indeed modifying the verb.

This, however, led to me to think of other uses of the present/past perfect, where another verb isn't present. The is the best example I could formulate:

"He has always been an academic and a charitable person."

See, right there, always--an adverb of frequency--was placed in between has and been.

Does this mean only adverbs of frequency (e.g., always, usually, etc.) should be placed in between such constructs?

A final example to put this topic over the edge is "He had been either sick or exhausted." Now, if you were to move "either" in between "had been," would the sentence be grammatically incorrect? I've noticed that the former is used more frequently, but the sandwiched version doesn't sound wrong either.

Thanks!

3

Adverb placement is not fixed, and as with other elements, I think most of it depends on what you want to express.

"He has always been an academic and a charitable person". This is a kind assessment of a man, and also the simplest and most common construction.

"He always has been an academic and a charitable person.* This is more emphatic, as if in defense of some alternate version of his history.

"He has been a wise and, always, a charitable person." This emphasizes the constancy of the latter attribute. All are "correct".

"We had been slowly drifting down the river when a bear attacked." is no different really than "We had been drifting slowly down the river when a bear attacked." To my ear (AmE), the latter sounds a bit more common. I agree it would be unusual to break up had been in this case, but "he had often been seen..." is not an unusual construction.

"He had been either sick or exhausted." is much the same as "He had either been sick or exhausted." Here, either is emphasized because of it's less common placement. Both are grammatically correct.

  • +1 for saying a lot of the stuff I was also thinking. :) – F.E. Feb 11 '14 at 18:50
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I'd probably prefer

'We had been drifting slowly down the river ...' .

Adverb placement is flexible but sometimes quirky.

.............................

An emphasiser (adverb of degree - or arguably pragmatic marker) would sometimes be placed after the (first) auxiliary:

"I have really been trying so hard." (same usage as 'I've really tried this term.')

Notice that the modal pragmatic marker usage of really would be placed differently:

"I really have been trying so hard." (here, really = honestly / believe me) OR "I have been trying so hard. Really / Honestly!"

.............................

'Either __ or __' is a correlative conjunction. Strictly, it should join grammatical equivalents:

"Either he had been sick or he had been exhausted."

"He had either been sick or been exhausted."

"He had been either sick or exhausted."

However, ellipses can lead to other variants, and if they sound reasonable they often catch on. Hopefully, the ellipsis will not generate an ambiguity.

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There may be some difference in placement of adverbs according to type of adverb. One type of adverb is the "adverb of frequency": "always" in your second example above is one. Also, "sometimes", "never", etc. The "slowly" of your first example above is a different type of adverb - more descriptive of quality rather than frequency. With your first example above, I would prefer, "We had been drifting slowly down the river when a bear attacked," rather than splitting "had been drifting" in any way. With your second example above, it seems you have a bit more flexibility in the placement of adverbs of frequency. Cheers.

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