He is arguably the best actor of his generation

In the above sentence the adverb is placed just after "be" Can we use adverb after "be"? If we can use then please explain properly because I have studied that adverb can be used before adjective and adverb .

  • Logically / semantically, adverbial arguably is more closely coupled to the relevant noun phrase (the best actor) rather than the (contextually insignificant) verb (is) in your example. Consider, for example, (1) OP is probably a non-native speaker, compared to (2) OP probably is a non-native speaker. That second form would usually be used when refuting someone else having suggested that OP is in fact not a native speaker. By the same token, is in OP's example might be placed after the adverb when disagreeing with someone who just suggested he wasn't a good actor. Commented May 13, 2018 at 17:44
  • It's fine. "Arguably" modifies the copular clause.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 20:24

2 Answers 2


Please let us take a step back:

Consider: it is hoped versus hopefully.

  • It is hoped they will win the race.

    is not:

    Hopefully, they will win the race.

    People often use hopefully when they mean: it is hoped [that] etc.

    Think about this: "Hopefully, he will win the race." actually means: "He will win the race full of hope". This is often a problem in writing. In speech, people commonly use "hopefully" for "it is hoped". It seems to have taken over. I know, I use it and I know I am actually saying nonsense when I think about what I'm saying.

  • We sang the chorus hopefully and trundled off to dinner. [In other words, we had hope in our minds/hears when we sang the chorus].

The same is true of arguably (and many other adverbs as well): the actual intended meaning is:

- It can be argued that he is one of the best actors of this generation.

"Arguably" is used as a stand-in for "It can or may be argued that", I respectfully submit to you.

For me, hopefully and arguably actually often are stand-in for entire clauses in spoken language. If the people says it [on purpose], it's cool. But we wouldn't want our esteemed professors, their acolytes and others of this ilk, wherever they may be, to be writing hopefully in their papers and articles when, in fact, they mean it is hoped.

And here is an official dictionary entry on the matter: hopefully

That long explanation in the Merriam Webster states, among other things that:

The earliest “modern usage” of hopefully that we are aware of comes from the middle of the 17th century.

It also states, and this bears paying attention: "A sentence adverb modifies the meaning of an entire statement (as opposed to the adverb of manner, which modifies a single word or phrase)."

So hey, I call it a phantom clause but there may be some other fancy name for it. The point is it goes with an entire sentence and is not merely some adverb.

  • No one says anything interesting at all, no one explained usage like I did, but I get the downvote. Ergo, my answer must be the best. I wonder if the downvoter understand what usage even means.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 23:27

You ask an interesting question.

The conventional rule is that adjectives qualify nouns, while adverbs modify verbs. You are right to feel uncomfortable about

He is arguably the best actor of his generation.

As Greenbaum puts it in The Oxford English Grammar [4.26 page141]:-

Adverbs are a heterogeneous class, varying greatly in their functional and positional ranges.

He also points out that some adverbs (or rather, adverbials) modify not a verb or an adjective, but a clause or sentence as a whole. he distinguishes three types: conjuncts, disjuncts and adjuncts. As far as I can tell from his examples, your “arguably” would count as a disjunct adverbial. This type, is described as follows. He says:

Disjuncts provide comments on the unit in which they stand.

And then on p.147, having distinguished style disjuncts (such as “And the second uh purpose is in fact involved in sex or more strictly I suppose the exchange of DNA”) from content disjuncts, which he explains as follows.

content disjuncts may be modal (commenting on the truth-value) ...[he gives as example: “This is probably a woman’s size”]... or evaluative (making a value judgement) ... [he gives among his examples “Moreover, Irish voters have wisely never given him an overall parliamentary majority”].

Greenbaum includes arguably in his list of the modal kind of content disjunct. Here is part of his list

Admittedly, certainly, clearly, ...undoubtedly, apparently, arguably, ... possibly, ... theoretically.

Greenbaum is arguably correct. Or I could have written that “Arguably, Greenbaum is correct.”. Either way, the adverbial is commenting on the truth or otherwise of the proposition that the sentence asserts. It is neither certainly nor barely, but arguably. So the adverbial is a modal content adverbial.

Or does its position preceding the adjective mean that it modifies “correctness”? I am not sure. In fact, I am not sure it matters. Either is arguable.

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