Word Order Rules: Adverbials

The examples in the article Word order rules in english outline all of the sentence positions in their most common ordering, except for one final kind of sentence positon: the adverbial.

Adverbials are words or phrases that provide the information adverbs usually provide: information about the following:

When (e.g. yesterday, in the middle of the night, at 5 p.m., during the production, when they left the house)

Where (e.g. there, beside the door, in the shed, following the closure)

How (quickly, with haste, in confidence, as a beggar)

Why (e.g. because, to apply for the job, for her country’s citizens)

Adverbials are difficult because they can be placed in so many different positions in a sentence, and movement of adverbials can produce variation in emphasis and meaning.

Some basic principles for adverb placement

Generally, place your one-word adverbials (i.e. adverbs) as close to the things they modify as you can, and prefer to place them before your verbs.


He took the instrument to music room to play immediately” should be rephrased if we mean to describe when “he took” the instrument: “He immediately took the instrument to the music room.

As an exception to the last tip, most adverbs should follow transitive verbs.


He sat uncomfortably in the waiting room.

Adverbial phrases (which often begin with prepositions, e.g. “in the pantry beside the door”) are trickier. Prefer to place adverbial phrases at the beginnings or ends of sentences, before your subject or after whatever falls in the final sentence position as given above.

Be aware, however, of sentences the best violate this default placement. Because the focus of a sentence tends to fall on its end, and to a lesser degree its beginning, adverbials that give useful but unimportant information can be smuggled into the middle of a clause, especially they’re not too long.


In the waiting room he sat uncomfortably.

He sat in the waiting room uncomfortably. (Notice how “in the waiting room” receives less emphasis here).

He sat uncomfortably in the waiting room.

Continue reading: Word order rules for Adjectives

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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