What would be the right position of "substantially" in the following:

1). Before verb: These optimal values substantially contribute to the success of the methodology.

2). After verb: These optimal values contribute substantially to the success of the methodology.

Here is my issue:

Fact1: When I use Google Ngram, I get this, 0 occurrence of option 1.

Fact2: I found an excellent Grammar book that discusses Adverbs, their types and prefered positions. The author defines some rules that I'll summarize as follows:

  1. Connecting adverbs, eg: however, then,..., Position: Beginning of clause.
  2. Indefinite frequency, eg: always, usually,..., Position: Mid position (after auxilary verb, before other verbs) sometimes beginning of clause.
  3. Focusing adverbs, eg: mainly, only,..., Position: Mid position.
  4. Adverb of certainty, eg: clearly, obviously, Position: Mid position.
  5. Adverb of completeness, eg: almost, nearly,..., Position: Mid position.
  6. Adverb of manner, eg: fast, slowly, nicely,..., Position: End clause, mid and beginning.
  7. Adverb of place, eg: upstairs, around, Position: End clause, sometimes beginning.
  8. Adverb of time, eg: daily, weekly, ... Position: Mostly end clause, sometimes beginning and mid position.

I think that "substantially" is an adverb of completeness. Therefore, the right position is before the verb "contribute" (option 1). However, Google Ngam indicates that option 1 is not widely used.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

  • 1
    'Substantially' is usually called an adverb of degree. The favoured position for this particular one is immediately after the verb. Contrast immediately before the verb for 'almost' and 'nearly'. And notice that 'nearly contributed' doesn't apply to degree of contributing (how much) but to how close to contributing the referents came. Get a better grammar. Feb 16, 2016 at 0:17
  • Good. Do you know an excellent book of Grammar? English is my third language and I am struggling to learn intermediate/advanced grammar.
    – Hadjer
    Feb 16, 2016 at 0:45
  • It can sound natural before adverbs, e.g. "Your edits make your question substantially better." but in the example you quote, it sounds more natural after the verb.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 20, 2016 at 1:26

2 Answers 2


In his text The Syntactic Phenomena of English, McCawley gives a taxonomy of adverbs based on what they modify. While most adverbs do not modify verbs, according to him, he argues that degree adverbs, like "completely", do modify verbs. I would suppose that this also applies to "substantially". Furthermore, McCawley says that in general, modifiers tend to occur either immediately before or immediately after what they modify.

These general grounds would lead us to expect that "substantially" ought to occur immediately before or immediately after the main verb of a sentence. However, degree adverbs can ordinarily also occur at the end of the verb phrase: "He missed the target substantially." And there is another rule of English that a clause adverb does not occur between a transitive verb and its direct object: *"He missed substantially the target."


Both of the example sentences - using the adverb 'substantially' before or after 'contribute' - are equally clear in their meaning.

Also, with shorter versions of the phrase, and with American English for comparison, the Ngram is a bit more telling. The adverb-after option is more common... but it's such a miniscule difference.

1800-2016 American

1800-2016 British

Not all adverbs, and certainly not all English words in general, will follow the patterns held forth in a book of grammar. These are good guideposts to learn, but there are always plenty of exceptions.

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