I was wondering where an adverb should (or could) be placed in the passive present perfect progressive in English.

I have been being carefully tickled.


I have been carefully being tickled.


I have carefully been being tickled.

An alternative position of an adverb is after the lexical verb, but I do not think that it is the only possibility.

I have been being tickled carefully.

Do all progressive tenses share this place for the adverb?

Please provided references and/or sources if possible.

  • Before tackling the placement of "carefully", you may want to edit your sentences since "being" doesn't belong with "have been"). It's either "...am being tickled" or "have been tickled". – Kristina Lopez Jan 2 '13 at 19:05
  • @KristinaLopez I am sorry, but it's not. That's exactly what the passive present perfect progressive is. – Bram Vanroy Jan 2 '13 at 21:23
  • Whatever you call it, it's definitely not common usage - just trying to be helpful! :-) – Kristina Lopez Jan 2 '13 at 21:33
  • I know you are just trying to help, but it is a completely correct tense so there was no need to call me to order without doing some research beforehand! ;-) – Bram Vanroy Jan 3 '13 at 8:37
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    This table on adverb placement may also be useful. – bytebuster Jan 3 '13 at 8:53

Note that there are a few instances of "been being carefully" in Google Books, but no relevant occurrences of those three words in any other sequence.

Personally I have no real preference for carefully being placed before or after the verb - but in this context, "the verb" means the word "tickled", not the "helper" verb forms "been" and "being". Thus,

I have been being carefully tickled.
I have been being tickled carefully.

...are equally valid, and mean exactly the same thing. Here are a couple of real-world instances...

...has been being researched systematically...
...have been being carefully researched...

In short, put your adverb right next to (either immediately before or after) the "operative verb". Just don't splice it in between any pair of "auxiliary" verbs you happen to be using.

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    In fact, this is the rule in general for adverbs of manner (the adverb should be right next to the verb or at the end of the clause). There are roughly 20 instances of "am being carefully verbed" in Google books, and none of "am carefully being verbed". Similarly, you can check Ngrams to see that "have been carefully" is overwhelmingly more common than "have carefully been". – Peter Shor Jan 2 '13 at 16:57
  • @Peter: Yes, adverbs used in this way invariably "stick" to the verb, so for example, has been being researched over several decades systematically. On the other hand, although has been being over several decades researched systematically sounds stylistically awful to me, it doesn't sound inherently "ungrammatical". But I'm not sure adverb of manner is the crucial factor here - I think it might be just the same with any kind of adverbial modification of a verb in past participle form. – FumbleFingers Jan 2 '13 at 17:21
  • @Peter: der... Just noticed I forgot to type some text there. I meant to say the first example was totally unacceptable (you can't stick over several decades between verb and adverb). The second example is just "bad". – FumbleFingers Jan 3 '13 at 1:18

Well, for one thing, it depends on the adverb. The placing of adverbs varies according to the type of adverb ('An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage' by Leech and others). Carefully is an adverb of manner, and such adverbs typically, but not invariably, occur at the end of a clause: ‘This path can be very slippery and walkers should therefore descend it carefully’.

However, perfect progressive passive constructions are very rare in English ('Cambridge Grammar of English' by Carter and McCarthy) and your example is such an improbable sentence that it would be hard to say where any adverb should or should not go at all.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Is this so for all progressive tenses? – Bram Vanroy Jan 2 '13 at 16:16
  • No, not for all. It’s the combination of perfect + progressive + passive that’s rare. – Barrie England Jan 2 '13 at 16:29

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