In a book about the philosophy of William James, I have found the pattern transitive verb (to appreciate) + adverb of manner (fully) + direct object (what James means by distinguishing knowing into two kinds). As far as I know, grammatically speaking, it is incorrect to put an adverb of manner between the direct object and a transitive verb. The adverb must either be before the verb or after the direct object. Is, then, the following case a violation of the rule for the sake of emphasis?

To appreciate fully what James means by distinguishing knowing into two kinds, direct acquaintance and knowledge about, we need first to (...)

The brackets are mine.

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    Maybe you should clarify more how you are parsing that sentence, as I can't work out which bits of that sentence you are applying those categories to. The sentence seems fine to me.
    – ralph.m
    Dec 27, 2018 at 23:36
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    Who/what has told you that adverbs of manner can not intervene between a verb and its object? They told you wrong, who-/whatever they are. There are many cases where it can’t, but there are also cases where it can, especially when the object is a clause; compare “He shouted angrily that he was busy”, for example. Dec 27, 2018 at 23:54
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    It's a form of movement, whether you treat it as moving fully to come right after appreciate and therefore potentially a unit constituent, or as extraposing the direct object Wh-clause to the end, to the same effect. The problem is that to appreciate fully is a predicate that happens to be in two words, but would be separated by the Wh-clause in a very awkward way, thus: To appreciate what James means by distinguishing knowing into two kinds, direct acquaintance and knowledge about, fully, This is, to say the least, an awkward way to begin a sentence. Dec 28, 2018 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


You are correct that where there is a direct object, adverbs of manner are most commonly inserted after it, and moving them to other positions can render the sentence unnatural or ambiguous.

The agency enforced the new rule sporadically at best.
*The agency enforced sporadically at best the new rule.

This is not a strict rule, however, especially in writing or more formal communication. You can adjust the position of the adverb to fit your needs, though it is hard for me to distill acceptable occasions to a rule of thumb. Here are a few examples.

  • When the object is longer than a few words, moving the adverb to a medial position more clearly establishes that it modifies the main verb.

    From Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address:

    [W]e must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers…

    This could be rendered We must recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers frankly, but that increases the cognitive load on the listener to associate frankly with must recognize, whereas must frankly recognize (or frankly must recognize or must recognize frankly) does not.

  • Moving the adverb closer to the verb has the effect of emphasizing it, which can be desirable for rhetorical effect. From the same speech:

    I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army…
    In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God.

  • Moving the adverb in front of the objects can make parallel constructions more clear, or draw attention to them, as in this famous syllepsis:

    He was alternately cudgeling his brains and his donkey.

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