"This should perfectly be done". "This should be perfectly done". Of the two sentences, which one is correct? I am confused about placing of adverb "perfectly". Should the adverb be placed before "be" or after "be". Or, could it be placed at either place?

  • To me both sound weird. I would say: “This should be done perfectly.” I don't have any proper explanation though. – Joffysloffy Nov 18 '15 at 12:30
  • "This had better be done perfectly or not at all." "A book of this kind should be properly formatted and neatly bound." "A book of this kind should be bound neatly or not at all." This should give you some clues: if you're tempted to add "or not at all," place the adverb after the verb; if not, place it before the verb. This may not always work, though. I just made it up, but it sounds about right. – Ricky Nov 18 '15 at 12:43
  • This should be perfectly done sounds like you're handing me a steak. This should be done perfectly sounds like a warning from a mohel. – deadrat Jan 18 '16 at 2:07

Different kinds of adverbs work differently. "Perfectly" is a manner adverb: "The manner in which this is done should be perfect." According to the classification given in McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, manner adverbs are verb phrase (or V-bar) modifiers. They can ordinarily come after the verb phrase they modify:

This should [VP [VP be done] perfectly]

Other types of adverbs are ordered differently. Sentence adverbs like "probably", for instance, can come before the sentence they modify, or before or after the subject or an auxiliary of that sentence. Sentence finally, they need to be set off by a comma:

[S Probably [S this should be done] ]

and contrasting "probably" with "perfectly":

*Perfectly this should be done.
This *perfectly/probably should be done.
This should *perfectly/probably be done.
This should be done perfectly/*probably.

The last example with "*probably" is to be read with no pause before the "probably".

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  • What if I write "This should be perfectly/probably done"? In the sentence you cited, can "perfectly/probably" be placed just after "be"? – Dinesh Kumar Garg Jan 19 '16 at 3:07
  • I don't know what McCawley's description says about those cases. My own intuitions are unclear. – Greg Lee Jan 19 '16 at 3:14
  • This is precisely the crux of my question. This is what I am looking for a solution. – Dinesh Kumar Garg Jan 19 '16 at 3:20
  • Come to think of it, I have my own theory about adverbs which predicts that "perfectly" and other manner adverbs should be okay after passive non-finite "be", but "probably" should not be acceptable here. – Greg Lee Jan 19 '16 at 3:21

Both versions are correct (and archaic, not in common use) but

"This should be perfectly done".

sounds much more fluent and poetic. Both sentences have the same meaning though: the doing of this action should be perfect.

This is similar to the way we say:

"Didn't you eat a banana yesterday?" 

We know [didn't] = [did not] so if we replace didn't with did not, we get:

"Did not you eat a banana yesterday?" 

which is very old English. Today, we would say:

"Did you not eat a banana yesterday?" 

If I was to suggest an alternative that sounds much more contemporary and is far more common than both of these, I would use

"This should be done perfectly". 
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