I have the following sentence in my dissertation:

The even-tempered STO basis for Mg shows nicely why the virial theorem cannot be trusted as an error indicator.

However, previously I had there:

... nicely shows why the ...

But I was told that the "nicely shows" word order is incorrect. So I googled around and found many pages, for example [1]. It looks like that "nicely" falls into the "Adverbs of Manner" box, but those seem to go either before or after the verb, e.g.:

I slowly opened the door.


We waited patiently for the play to begin.

Is there some rule to determine where to put the adverb, and which of the two ("shows nicely" vs "nicely shows") is correct and why?

[1] http://www.wordpower.ws/grammar/gramch24.html

  • 2
    "shows nicely" slightly has more emphasis on this phrase itself. On the other hand "nicely shows" runs more smoothly in the sentence and doesn't stand out as much. So it depends on what you want. I will just add the observation that these words (and the word "trusted") don't have a place in technical writing. You probably mean "prominently" instead of "nicely" and even then you'd actually specify something more concrete instead. "trusted" phrase could become "is not a reliable error indicator". Subjective feeling words trivialize good science. – Chris Oct 23 '12 at 1:39
  • 1
    Take a look at this – Jim Oct 23 '12 at 1:42
  • I'm pretty sure this is a duplicate, just can't find the Q right now. – American Luke Oct 23 '12 at 1:42
  • 1
    I agree with most of @Chris's comments (but disagree with use of "prominently"). The other problems of the sentence are more important than that asked about. (Note, the wiktionary entry for virial is: “Common misspelling of viral”) – James Waldby - jwpat7 Oct 23 '12 at 5:40
  • Thank you all for your comments. Yes, I might change the sentence, but I really wanted to understand the problem I asked about. Btw, virial theorem is correct (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virial_theorem), but that's not important for this. – Ondřej Čertík Oct 23 '12 at 8:40

After checking out a number of sites on the Net, it seems that most of the grammar pages say that adverbs of manner, like nicely, normally come after the verb. That may be true.

I find that it all depends on what I want to emphasize in the sentence. In the biomedical papers that I edit, I always change "as described previously" to "as previously described". Why? It sounds better to my ear because I put primary stress on the first syllable of previously when it comes before the verb, and seems to me to be the proper word order for what I consider a set phrase that should emphasize previously rather than described.

Most adverbs of manner can be placed before or after the verb. As Chris says in a comment, it slightly changes the emphasis and the rhythm of the sentence, not the meaning.

Whoever told you that the word order was incorrect was wrong. It's not incorrect; it's merely a personal preference, a matter of style, not grammar and not semantics.

I look at you all
See the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps

The rhythm of the sentence is what's important in these lyrics. It's perhaps less important in a science paper, but I usually[1] think about it when I edit.

Putting an adverb in the wrong place can change the meaning and focus of the sentence. I tend to ignore "rules" about adverb placement when I write and edit. I think about where each word belongs in each sentence in context, not in theory.

NOTE [1]: "...but I think usually about it" changes the meaning of the sentence.

  • Bill, thanks for this excellent answer. I agree with you, that it's very nice to have a smooth rhythm and flow of the sentences --- it makes the reader feel good, while bad wording catches the eye and distracts the reader from what we want to say. With enough practice, I'll improve eventually. :) – Ondřej Čertík Oct 23 '12 at 4:15

In Claire Kehrwald Cook's book Line By Line (which I highly recommend), Ms. Cook, writes (p. 23):

An adverb modifying a verb phrase goes after the first word in the phrase (was extremely surprised, has often been said, would certainly have asked) unless, in verb phrases of three or more words, it modifies only the participle (had been justly accused, would have been officially ruled). You usually know instinctively when to put the adverb before the participle, and when you can't be sure, the position probably makes no difference.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.