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I had a grammar test this morning and I was asked in one of the exercises to place the adverb between brackets into their right positions, here's the exact line I had to solve:

He can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are against it (obviously-definitely)

My answer was:

He can't obviously go with you on that trip, because his parents are definitely against it

My question is if it's correct or not? If no, please tell me why.

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    While I do not see one right answer, your placement is not ideal. Maybe this: "He can't go with you on that trip, obviously, because his parents are definitely against it." Or: "He definitely can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are obviously against it. Mar 7 '17 at 22:32
  • Okay, why is the adverb preceding the action verb ? I only know that adverbs describe the action. thus, they follow the verb.
    – Zlatan
    Mar 7 '17 at 22:38
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    The sentence adverbial (pragmatic marker) usages may place the word 'obviously' thus: 'Obviously, he can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are against it.' / 'He obviously can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are against it.' / 'He can't go with you on that trip, obviously, because his parents are against it.' A paraphrase is 'It is obvious that he can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are against it.' //// The true (central) adverbial positioning is ' He can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are obviously against it.' Mar 7 '17 at 22:42
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    What about this one : When he was called by the judge, the witness walked to the stand. ( finally-hesitatingly). here's my answer : When he was finally called by the judge, the witness walked hesitatingly to the stand.
    – Zlatan
    Mar 7 '17 at 22:44
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    You need to first distinguish between central adverbs (which modify the verb involved) and what are traditionally called 'sentence adverbs' (which usually stand as comments and are in many respects outside the matrix sentence). As can be seen, the same word-form (here, 'obviously') can perform both roles. (And others.) Mar 7 '17 at 22:47
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I'm assuming the adverbs have to go in that respective order in those clauses.

Adverbs are complicated in English. They perform a variety of functions. I won't go into details about the various functions, but their distribution (placement) can vary depending on the function of the adverb.

I'd say the intended answer is:

He obviously can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are definitely against it.

Alternatively:

Obviously, he can't go with you on that trip, because his parents are definitely against it.

Obviously here is an evaluative adverb; it provides the speaker's evaluation of the proposition (his inability to go with you). Evaluatives can go in a number of spots (two are shown above), but not within any phrases.

The position you had it in is between the auxiliary verb can't and the lexical verb go, which is squarely in the middle of the IP (or VP, depending on your theory). In this position, obviously is still functioning as an evaluative, but the proposition that it evaluates is his going, not his inability to go, and this whole evaluated chunk is then negated with can't. To bracket this out:

He [can't [obviously [go]]]

That is obviously modifies go whereas in my answer above:

he [obviously [can't [go]]]

Go is negated first, and then the negated chunk is evaluated.

So the meaning of he can't obviously go is parallel in my opinion to you can't seriously mean that. But the meaning of obviously doesn't exactly lend itself here.

To show the difference, a better adverb would be clearly. Consider the two sentences below:

John doesn't clearly understand the task.

John clearly doesn't understand the task.

The meaning of the first is that john doesn't understand the task very clearly. So he understands it to some degree, but not enough. Clearly modifies understand.

In the second, John doesn't understand the task at all, and clearly provides the speakers evaluation of the proposition: the fact that John doesn't understand the task is clear.

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    This has been covered before (one treatment is at Adverb placement in 'Lets simply share', but I'm sure there have been others) – but this is so well written I'm not going to close-vote on the question. / Some modern treatments split off pragmatic markers (here, traditionally, your comment / evaluative / modal sentence adverb) from true adverbs. Which analysis I prefer. Mar 7 '17 at 23:08
  • That was very explicit and I could easily understand. yet, I need to learn more about the placing order of adverbs, and practice further exercises to grasp it firmly. Many thanks to all of you for your valuable help, you've been more than helpful.
    – Zlatan
    Mar 7 '17 at 23:16
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    Yes, practicing and asking people to let you know if your adverb placement sounds wrong, and why, is the best bet to mastering it. Honestly, most native speakers don't know why things are wrong, and will often say it 'sounds weird'. So don't get too hung up about it. Would you mind accepting my answer by ticking it?
    – Jangari
    Mar 7 '17 at 23:20

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