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Wikipedia tells us that the order should be place–manner–time. However, this webpage tells that it should be manner–Place–Time. Which one is correct?

I have one sentence in two different orders:

  • No child should grow up in poverty in America in the 21st century.
  • No child should grow up in America in poverty in the 21st century.
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    I do not think this is a rigid rule. Adverbs and adverbial phrases can often be moved around; and a sentence with a lot of them reads better when they are clustered together at the end. So, for example, I should write: "In the 21st century no child in America should grow up in poverty".
    – user19148
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 18:31
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    I think both sentences read badly, and that in a bad sentence the order of things is unimportant. Answers to The Royal Order of Adverbs suggest a few rewriting methods. Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 18:56
  • My English master said "Time-Manner-Place" and most sentences read well in that order. Some don't, though. Carlo's version is best.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 19:20
  • @jwpat7: what do you think of "In the 21st century no child in America should grow up in poverty". Does this construction sound more natural for a native speaker?
    – user19148
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 19:21
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    I think what makes the sentences awkward is not the adverbial order, but the repetition of in...in...in. You could get rid of one of the ins this way, perhaps: "in 21st century America". Even keeping the ins, moving some to the front can alleviate the awkwardness: "In America in the 21st century, no child should grow up in poverty." The "in poverty" belongs more closely with "grow up" than the other two "in" phrases. The point is that a child should not grow up in poverty...not that a child should not grow up in America or should not grow up in the 21st century.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 12:11

4 Answers 4

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In British English the standard word order for adverbs in end-position is manner-place-time(easy to remember as the initial letters are in alphabetical order m-p-t). However, to avoid too many adverbs in end-position and for emphasis I would suggest to put the adverb of time in front-position. This sounds much more fluent - although I must admit I'm German myself ;)

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    Minor observation "I would suggest putting the adverb" is correct. To my ears "I would suggest to put" sounds wrong and jarring. Not what the OP asked, but a useful note. In general non-native speakers seem to use infinitives too much. Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 20:40
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Adverbs of time do go last, something both your references agree on. For adverbs of place and manner, I believe there is not a general order that is usually followed in English. Consider this Google Ngram showing that stay at home alone beats stay alone at home, but not overwhelmingly. So this example weakly supports the place, manner order.

enter image description here

On the other hand, stay late at work beats stay at work late, but again not overwhelmingly. This is weak evidence for manner, place.

enter image description here

For the OP's question, my opinion is that "in poverty" should come first, because for this example, it is a more important adverbial clause than "in America".

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  • Not sure what you consider “overwhelming”; the first has more than a 4:1 ratio at the right edge, although you can get that up to 9:1 if you diddle it a bit. The second one looks about like 4½ to 1, but again can be diddled up to 6:1. More diddling examples here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 0:28
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    For overwhelming, I was thinking of a ratio like the ratio you get when you compare "big white" and "white big". This is close to 100 to 1. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 0:49
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    The sentence "No child should grow up in America in poverty in the 21st century" runs the risk of derailing listeners. You get halfway through and it sounds like you're saying no child should have to grow up in America.
    – octern
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 1:01
  • "in poverty" is the important bit so needs emphasis from its position. English allows order to be drastically transformed for emphasis. Also you may want to stress place or time more.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 26 at 17:49
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Although 2 years have passed since your question, I have just found in a grammar book of mine that the right order is Manner-Place-Time. If the verb of the sentence is a verb of motion then the order changes to : Place-Manner-Time. For instance, "he goes to his office by bus at nine o'clock."

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    Welcome to EL&U. If you are new to StackExchange, I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and to review the help cener. Your answer would be improved by indicating, at a minimum, which grammar book, with an excerpt, as it has already been demonstrated that both orders are in use.
    – choster
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 18:20
  • Yes, mentioning the book would be really interesting. But the already demonstrated things are not relevant. Another book can say other things, and it's the interesting part.
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 4:04
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English is becoming more analytic so the word order plays a role. Thereby, the word order changes the syntactical meaning like which is the subject and which is the object, and which part of the sentences the words modify. When you change the word order, the meaning of the sentence changes as well.

In your example, I agree that the canonical grammar book rule of manner-place-time holds, and that it is more common to say

  • No child should grow up in poverty in America in the 21st century.

because you actually want to say

  • No child should (grow up in poverty) (in America in the 21st century).

but not

  • No child should (grow up in America) (in poverty in the 21st century).

which could possibly mean that the 21st century is in poverty in general, and in that situation, we don't want children to grow up in America. Here, you should notice that (in America) becomes the manner, and (in poverty) becomes the place. Although it is understood that we don't tend to interpret it that way in daily languages.

However, in general situations, the order of adverbials is indeed flexible and the manner-place-time is not strict. When you place them in a different order, you tend to emphasize different parts of the adverbials.

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