10

I know that the pattern manner-place-time shouldn't be taken too seriously if one wants to speak natural English.

In real life, people rarely use a string of adverbs. Speakers will easily break the pattern for emphatic or stylistic reasons (usually placing the adverb at the beginning of the sentence). Other factors such as length and specificity will also override the arrangement.

But I'm constructing illustrative sentences that highlight (and stick to) the Royal Order of Adverbs.

What all the online sources are doing is mixing adverbs and prepositional phrases, but I can't have the concept of prepositional phrases in my examples just yet. This means I should include only one-word or two-word adverbs (without prepositions).

So, I have these:

  • He sat quietly upstairs all day.
  • She waited impatiently outside this morning.
  • They gather noisily downtown every Saturday night.

Are the sentences above still correct, as in natural-sounding? Somehow they started sounding a bit off to me. I guess I just need to test them with a second pair of ears.

  • 1
    The order of the adverbials reads naturally enough to me, but I'd expect to find such sentences in writing rather than in speech. – Barrie England Aug 25 '12 at 20:21
  • They all sound perfect to me. Moreover, all of the other five orders sound markedly worse. – Daniel Harbour Aug 25 '12 at 21:00
  • Thanks, @BarrieEngland, Daniel. This is exactly the kind of input I need – Cool Elf Aug 26 '12 at 4:47
  • For naturalness, I would use loudly instead of noisily. FWIW, I find the place-manner-time orders just as natural if not moreso than the originals. – Rachel Aug 27 '12 at 11:06
  • No doubt related to the soi-disant Royal Order of Adjectives. – tchrist Jul 4 '13 at 16:41
5

Yes - I can't find anything grammatically wrong, but certainly your second example doesn't sound natural. It's probably, as you imply, that a lot of information is being condensed into a small space, when it might be better put in extended constructions (get a move on with those prepositional phrases!) or even more than one sentence.

She waited outside this morning.

She waited impatiently outside.

??She waited impatiently this morning.

She waited impatiently outside the school this morning.

She waited - impatiently - outside, this morning.

She waited outside this morning. Impatiently.

Of course, there are some who would say that outside is an intransitive preposition in your second example (and in four of mine).

I've found an article covering 'the Royal Order of Adverbs' at the Farlex Grammar Book. Here are some salient points:

What is the order of adverbs?

Because adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, clauses, or even entire sentences, they are able to function nearly anywhere in the sentence, depending on their type and what it is they are modifying.

If we use more than one adverb to describe a verb, though, there is a general order in which the different categories of adverbs should appear—this is known as the order of adverbs (sometimes called the royal order of adverbs):

  1. Manner

  2. Place

  3. Frequency

  4. Time

  5. Purpose

Of course, it is uncommon to use five adverbs in a row to modify the same word, but if a sentence uses two or three, then it is best to follow this order to avoid sounding unnatural....

(*Note: For the sake of conciseness, both single-word adverbs and adverbial phrases will be referred to together as “adverbs” throughout this section.) ...

[I]if we were to make a sentence with all five categories of adverbs together, it might look like this:

“I have to run quickly (manner) down the street (place) each morning (frequency) after breakfast (time) in order to catch my bus to school (purpose).”

Even though the string of adverbs is unusually long, the sentence still sounds smooth and logical because the order is correct. Now let’s try rearranging the order of the adverbs:

“I have to run each morning (frequency) quickly (manner) after breakfast (time) in order to catch my bus to school (purpose) down the street (place).”

By changing the order of the adverbs, we’ve actually changed the meaning of the sentence, or at least made the original meaning nearly incomprehensible. This is especially apparent with the adverbial phrase of purpose 'in order to catch my bus to school'— by placing it before the adverb of place, it now sounds as though it’s the school that’s down the street. There is not such a drastic shift in meaning for the adverbs of frequency, manner, and time, but they still sound awkward and unnatural in the new order.

When we can change the order

There is a great deal of flexibility regarding where in a sentence an adverb can appear, regardless of its content and the rules of order that we looked at above. While the order of adverbs is useful to keep in mind, it is a guide, rather than a law.

..........

Multiple adverbs of the same category

When we use multiple adverbs of the same category to modify the same verb, we order them based on how specific the information is that they provide. For example:

“On my father’s ranch (place), I often (frequency) helped gather the animals at the end of the day (specific time) when I was younger (non-specific time).”

“I lived at home (more specific place) with my parents (less specific place) to save money (purpose) while I was working on my doctorate (time).”

And if the Royal Order ruling has to be seen as a rule of thumb, it is almost inconceivable that this codicil is more binding.

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  • I think what doesn't sound natural is the im-patient part coupled with waited. IF I am talking about how I accidentally shut my dog outside and said, "She waited patiently outside all morning." That sounds perfectly find to me and is something I would say. – Jim Aug 25 '12 at 22:01
  • @Edwin, yeah, I guess I should start introducing prepositional phrases. I also agree about the "clutter." And, although "outside" is a one-word deal in its own right, the tendency to use it here as a preposition is stronger (like in your 4th example). – Cool Elf Aug 26 '12 at 5:15
  • @Jim, thanks for your comment as well. To avoid getting extraneous issues in the way of the illustration (and to be safe), I think I'll change the adverb to "patiently." – Cool Elf Aug 26 '12 at 5:22
  • @Jim: I agree. I wonder what rule of combining adverbs this would fall under!? I think the Royal Order is probably best introduced when the students have graduated - or, if the need arises before then, solely as a rule of thumb. It would be a lot more practical to give a 'stick to one adverb at a time where possible, or check with a native speaker for how it sounds' rule of thumb to learners. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 26 '12 at 8:09
5

Why not consider placing the manner adverb before the verb

  • He quietly sat upstairs all day.
  • She impatiently waited outside this morning.
  • They noisily gather downtown every Saturday night.

While this may give a bit more weight to the manner over the place or time, that is often the dominant theme - how they are behaving is often more important than where or when. If one of the other characteristics were more important, that could be the leading form

  • All day he sat quietly upstairs.

  • Downtown they gather noisily every Saturday night.

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  • the thought has actually crossed my mind to transfer just the manner adverb before the verb. This is still in line with the other answer of avoiding too much "clutter" in the string. As for the beginning of the sentence though, I'm supposed to go into that after the "pure" example of all adverbs stuck at the end – Cool Elf Aug 26 '12 at 5:28
  • These all sound less natural to me (native speaker) than the originals. – Rachel Aug 27 '12 at 11:11
0

While there is nothing ungrammatical about your examples, they do sound cluttered. I agree that beginning the sentence with an adverb sounds more natural. This also adds to sentence fluency and variety of sentences in a block of text.

To avoid adverb clutter, although this might upset the Royal Order (which has a warm place in my heart), I prefer:

  • This morning, she waited outside impatiently.
  • Every Saturday night, they noisily gather downtown.

In looking at other suggestions, it seems the temporal adverb phrase is the more favorable to move to the beginning of the sentence. Interesting that manner and place still fall in that order in my ears.

Incidentally,

Downtown, every Saturday night, they gather noiselessly.

makes a great opening line for the next hit suspense film blockbuster.

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  • Noiselessly means without any noise. A bit strange on a Saturday night. – Mari-Lou A Jan 31 '14 at 7:11

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