What I know is that adverbs are positioned between "be" verb and passive verb, but I can find many examples of both sentences:

  1. "will be finally deleted" OR "will finally be deleted"?

  2. "have finally been deleted" OR "have been finally deleted"?

Which one of these is right, and why?

  • 2
    They're the same -- both okay. – Greg Lee Aug 18 '19 at 3:39
  • According to the grammar, there should be only one accepted I guess. – Jassica Aug 18 '19 at 3:49
  • 1
    No, there often isn't just one right answer in English or any other language. – tchrist Aug 18 '19 at 4:45
  • They mean different things. “... finally be deleted” has the sense “at last, someone’s getting rid of it”. “... be finally deleted” is a little awkward, but it says something like “it is deleted permanently. – Lawrence Aug 18 '19 at 14:56

Traditional grammar:

The rule usually trotted out by traditional grammars regarding where to put adverbs such as the word finally, is quite complicated, and goes something like this:

  1. If there is no auxiliary verb, put the adverb before the main verb:
  • They finally arrived.
  1. However, if the main verb is the verb BE, then put the adverb after the verb:
  • They were finally free.
  1. If there is an auxiliary verb and a main verb, put the adverb between the auxiliary and the main verb.
  • They had finally succeded.

This can be quite tricky for students, as you might imagine. However, it gets more forbidable still, because certainly in grammar books for EFL students, it is rarely stipulated what to do when there is more than one auxiliary verb.

Modern grammar:

In modern grammars the rule can be stipulated much more simply. Modern grammars recognise auxiliary verbs as a class of verb which have similar syntactic properties, rather than verbs that come before a main verb. The verb to BE, therefore, is always an auxiliary verb, regardless of whether it is taking another verb (phrase) as its complement.

We can then simply say that:

  1. The adverb must be in a post-auxiliary position.

This means we can put it after any auxiliary verb. Even when there is no auxiliary we can still identify the position that we would put an auxiliary verb if it was required:

  • In the end they [x] find their dinosaur.
  • In the end they [do] find their dinosaur.

In such sentences the adverb goes in the post-auxiliary position:

  • In the end they [finally] find their dinosaur.

From the simple rule stated in (5), we can correctly derive the following sentences where the relevant auxiliary position has been marked in bold:

  1. They [x] finally arrived.
  2. They were finally free.
  3. They had finally finished.
  4. They will finally delete them.
  5. They will finally be deleted.
  6. They will be finally deleted.
  7. They will finally have been deleted.
  8. They will have finally been deleted.
  9. They will have been finally deleted.
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  • They will finally have been deleted. They will have finally been deleted. Are you saying both are acceptable? – Jassica Aug 19 '19 at 2:14
  • It's a pity that more linguists have not read McCawley's treatment of adverbs in The Syntactic Phenomena of English, because it is so much better than what you have here. For one thing, it is principled. – Greg Lee Aug 19 '19 at 3:13
  • @GregLee What's the problem now? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 19 '19 at 6:39
  • I think I said what the problem is. In more detail, your proposal gives no clue about why "finally" should turn up where it does, so it is unprincipled. Aren't you even curious about why the facts are what they are? Is it all about choosing the best stipulation? Is this your idea of "modern" grammar? – Greg Lee Aug 19 '19 at 18:18
  • @GregLee I believe that the theory is that it shouldn't interrupt a constituent. I don' t find that entirely convincing. However, this is an EFL post, not a linguistics one. The guidance for language students is rubbish basically because EFL coursebooks don't recognise BE as an auxiliary leaving Ss with three rules. Sorry this isn't a linguistics post, but then it wasn' t meant to be! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 20 '19 at 5:56

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