I have the following sentences:

  1. She takes dictation very slowly.
  2. They reached a verdict very quickly.

I can move the adverb phrase at the beginning:

  1. Very slowly, she takes dictation.
  2. Very quickly, they reached a verdict.

I am not a native speaker and sentence 3 does not sound very good while sentence 4 sounds correct. Can someone clarify if both sentences are correct or if the sentence 3 is not correct or unusual and give a reason.

  • 2
    Adjuncts like adverbs move more freely in English sentences than other constructs. In this case, fore or aft, the meaning doesn't change, so it's a matter of style and emphasis.
    – deadrat
    Oct 16, 2016 at 23:12
  • 1
    Sentences 2 and 4 are close in meaning, though (2) emphasises the speed of the decision. However, sentence 3 would not be used to describe the lack of proficiency of the lady, but might be used to refer to an occasion when for some reason the lady is taking dictation very slowly. Oct 16, 2016 at 23:29
  • If 2 emphasizes the speed of the decision then 4 emphasizes the verdict? So, the meaning in 1 and 3 is different. In 1 it describes the general proficiency of the lady while, in 3, it describes an instance. For example: She is consumed by the noise. Very slowly, she takes dictation. It can be used in writing prose. Virginia Woolf comes to my mind. Oct 16, 2016 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


While I accept that adverbs in English language enjoy some degree of contextual mobility or flexibility, I do not think they should me moved at will. Occasionally, a moved adverb can alter the semantic import of a statement... (1)I ONLY ATE RICE AT THE PARTY...(2)ONLY I ATE RICE AT THE PARTY...(3)I ATE ONLY RICE AT THE PARTY...In my opinion, the three sentences have different interpretations. Sentence 1) modifies the action ATE...meaning I didn't do any other thing at the party( I didn't dance, didn't drink etc) . Sentence (2) emphasises on the subject...no other person ate rice at the party( only I did). Sentence 3) reflects on the object...I didn't eat rice and shrimps or rice and plantain... I ate only rice. Now to the question, I think sentence 3, except if it's an excerpt from a novel where stories are told in the simple present tense (present simple, if you like) is a little odd. I'd suggest VERY SLOWLY, SHE TOOK THE DICTATION. In general, I think sentences 3 and 4, with the adverbials moved to the front and separated by commas, place emphasis on the manner in which the Taking and the reaching were done while sentences 1 and 2 are barely informing without emphasis. Just my opinion though, no citations available. Thanks.

  • The first half of your response is not closely related to the question. In all of those cases it's about constituency. The second part, after "now to the question" is useful. Oct 17, 2016 at 0:58

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