I'm confused about using phrases like "can be easily accessed".
When I'm deciding which of the following I should use:

  • it can be potentially provided
  • it can potentially be provided

by searching google it's almost obvious that the second one is correct (about 3,470 results for "can be potentially provided" vs. about 899,000 results for "can potentially be provided"). But when it comes to "can be easily accessed" vs "can easily be accessed", Google showed more results for the first one (about 475,000 vs about 338,000). According to the question in here, it may be understood that the first one is indeed better. But I cannot distinguish between these two phrases. Why should one grammatical rule apply to one of them and another rule to the other? Is there a general rule for similar circumstances?

  • The numbers provided by Google searches are complete nonsense. Consider this Ngram. While there's a clear preference for can potentially be, it's not a factor of 250. Both phrases are perfectly grammatical. – Peter Shor May 22 '16 at 17:26
  • And if you click through to see how many hits Google is actually willing to show you, can potentially be provided gives 246, while can be potentially provided gives 68. Don't trust Google search numbers. – Peter Shor May 22 '16 at 17:34

Adverb positions are fairly complex. Adverbs generally precede (but sometimes follow) the word or phrase they modify. When auxilliary verbs like 'can' and 'be' are brought in, there are more options for the placement of the adverb.

I remember reading a section of a book on syntax which proposed theories regarding the placement of adverbs in verb phrases with auxilliary verbs, but it was pretty high level (I think the book was Radford's Transformational Grammar). There are rules which depend on what type of auxilliary verb you have (for example, modal or non-modal) as well as what type of adverb you have.

Oftentimes, there is no clear semantic difference between the positional variants, as in the case of:

  1. It can be easily accessed.
  2. It can easily be accessed.
  3. It easily can be accessed.
  4. It can be accessed easily.

All of these sentences have (arguably) the same meaning and all sound pretty natural.

It seems to me that (roughly) the same thing happens with:

  1. It can be potentially provided.
  2. It can potentially be provided.
  3. It potentially can be provided.
  4. It can be provided potentially.

(6) or (8) are the most natural sounding, but (7) also sound fine to me.

(5) sounds a bit off to me, but it is hard to say why. It may be because you're splitting the syntactic unit 'be provided', which, for whatever reason, is disallowed for 'potentially'. But why 'potentially' should not be allowed to split such a phrase when 'easily' can split 'be accessed', as evidenced above, is not clear...

[If I find my copy of Radford, I'll look through the chapter on adverbs and re-write this answer.]

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  • You could also have (9) Potentially, it can be provided., which is a variation that you can't have with "easily accessed". – TrevorD May 22 '16 at 17:43
  • @TrevorD, yeah I was thinking about mentioning these kinds of pre-positionings, but "Easily, it can be accessed" might be okay... For me it's on the fence... – GoldenGremlin May 22 '16 at 17:50
  • To me ""Easily, it can be accessed" sounds very awkward and is the wrong side of the fence. – TrevorD May 22 '16 at 17:54

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