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I was just watching a tv show where they used the following sentence:

He probably just hasn't gotten around to it yet

It was a reply to the question, “Why didn't he inform you about it?”

I want to know whether it is okay to place the word just right after he.

The sentence would then be:

He just probably hasn't gotten around to it yet

– which sounds more natural to my ear. If this is not possible, could someone explain why not?

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It's possible, but the first rebdering sounds more natural to me. "just probably" hints of being barely probable, or emphasizing that it's only probable, not certain; whereas "just hasn't" hints at "it's simply because he hasn't gotten around to it, not that he intentionally neglected to do it." That's the more likely sense, so the more likely construction. On the other hand, one could put it near the end: "He probably hasn't gotten around to it JUST yet". in which case one infers that he plans to inform the other person eventually, just not yet.

  • 'Infers' works, but I'm guessing you mean 'implies'. // In "He probably hasn't gotten around to it JUST yet", 'just' is a hedging device; "He probably hasn't quite gotten around to it yet". Implication 'He's surely going to do what he needs to very soon now'. Actuality: "Pigs might fly'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '14 at 1:46
  • Thanks, but I meant that "one" (the reader) would "infer" that meaning. Sorry about the switch from "one" (the writer) in preceding sentence! I know it's pretentious to assume what someone else might infer, but I'm probably just that kind of guy, yet. – Brian Hitchcock Dec 27 '14 at 3:06
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If we reproduce the structures with simpler content, we have alternatives as below, for example in answer to the question Why did he do that?

He's probably [just tired].

He's just [probably tired].

..

He probably [just didn't think].

He just [probably didn't think].

If we replace just with a different adverb, we have alternatives such as:

He probably [never thought about it].

He never [probably thought about it].

..

He probably [already knows that].

He already [probably knows that].

For me, the first alternative in each case is the natural one.

My natural inclination is supported by The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p576). The CGEL distinguishes verb-phrase oriented adjuncts from clause-oriented adjuncts.

Verb-phrase oriented adjuncts, as the name suggests, modify verb phrases and are " ... likely to be positioned in the VP or adjacent to the VP." Clause oriented adjuncts "... are less closely associated with the VP constituents and less likely to be positioned in the VP or adjacent to the VP.

The CGEL follows by noting that the positioning of VP-oriented adjuncts:

... correlates with a semantic observation, namely that VP-oriented adjuncts denote modifications of the details of the predicate of a clause

whereas clause-oriented adjuncts

... represent modifications to the applicabilty of the clause content. That is, their semantic effect is to characterise how the propositional content of the clause relates to the world or the context: ... (including) the array of possible situations within which it is true (modality).

The CGEL classifies just as an adverb of degree, and as such it belongs in the VP-oriented adjunct category. Probably, on the other hand, is a clause-oriented adjunct.

The CGEL then has a section entitled Adjunct orientation and linear position. It notes:

... if a clause-oriented adjunct AdvP and a VP-oriented adjunct are both in the central position, they will be in that order, or will acquire a different and perhaps unusual meaning if not in that order:

It probably sometimes fails.

?It sometimes probably fails

(The question mark indicates a construction of dubious grammaticality.)

In conclusion, it is worth noting CGEL's general comment about adjunct positioning:

Only rather broad and approximate flexible generalisations about adjunct placement can be made. There is a great deal of variation in use, and features of content, style, prodsody, and euphony play a role in some decisions.

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