I want to say that an answer will appear shortly, and automatically, on the screen. I'm not sure whether the correct sentence is:

The answer will shortly appear automatically.

or maybe:

The answer will automatically appear shortly.

And I'm not even sure either of these sentences makes sense. Which is the way to go?

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    I was going to say 'try substituting soon for shortly, and you'll see that soon sounds better before the verb'. However, if you substitute very shortly for shortly, I think after the verb now sounds slightly better. I think it's a matter of prosody rather than syntax or semantics. This opinion is backed up, with more information on adverb placement, including the Royal-order-of-adverbs v flexibility arguments, at grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adverbs.htm – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 22:59
  • I don't understand the need of the word "automatically" over here. See Robusto's answer. – Sayan Jan 11 '13 at 4:50

I don't like the frequency with which the word "automatically" has been used.

Frequently, the more appropriate word should be "spontaneously".

I have even seen the usage "automatic door" labeled on a door operated "remotely" by a bus driver.

Take the following as an example of the dire situation of the misuse:

A hotel entrance is a wide bi-leaf glass French door. Two gentlemen, one on each side of door would spontaneously open each leaf of the door whenever someone gets near the entrance of the door, to either exit or enter.

The concierge goes on to assure guests that the door will be opened "automatically" by these two gentlemen whenever anyone gets near the entrance.

Another example is of students in a classroom saying,

Mrs D is nice. She always smiles "automatically" when you look at her.

Regardless that spontaneity is implied (though I do not agree) by "shortly", I would encourage the following,

The answer will appear spontaneously, shortly.


A spontaneous answer will appear shortly.

However, if you insist,

An automated response will appear shortly.

Spontaneous, due to spontaneous response to your non-automatic stimulus on the keyboard, perhaps. An automatic response is spontaneous, but a spontaneous response need not be an automatic one.

If an answer is to appear randomly and not as response to stimulus:

The non-spontaneous answer will appear shortly.

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  • The difference between spontaneous and automatic is that spontaneous means 'arising naturally rather than resulting from external constraint or stimulus' (AHDEL) - ie no external (applied) cause, whereas automatic means 'acting or operating in a manner essentially independent of external influence or control' - ie no external (applied) trigger. An automatic washing machine obviously has an external 'cause' (designers and manufacturers) but needs no constant feed of instructions by a launderer. 'Automatic' rather than 'spontaneous' is applicable (if unnecessary) here. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 11 '13 at 9:19

How about just "The answer will appear shortly"? The "automatically" is implied.

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Shortly, the answer will appear automatically.

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  • +1 Why didn't anyone think of this?! – Kris Jan 15 '13 at 13:15
  • Because it's not any better than the original two? (Just my opinion.) – Peter Shor Jan 15 '13 at 13:41

Any awkwardness you feel when you read the sentence has to do with the repeating -ly sounds in shortly and automatically. Replace either with some other word and the sentence would seem alright. For example, 'The answer will soon appear automatically'. Put that way, the order doesn't really matter. It can as well be 'The answer will automatically appear soon'.

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I prefer the second sentence, though I think one of the other answers, moving Shortly to the front of the sentence is better still.

You could also go with:

The answer will appear shortly and automatically.

Which removes the subtlety entirely.

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  • For some reason, this sounds like syllepsis to me. I think this is because automatically and shortly are from two different adverb classes: manner and time. – Peter Shor Jan 15 '13 at 13:45

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