Consider these two sentences below, which employ some kind of temporal adverbial / adjunct.

(I) Yesterday John won the Turkey Raffle.
(II) John always wins the Turkey Raffle.

My question is, why is the sentence below ungrammatical?

(III) *John yesterday won the Turkey Raffle.

Other examples:

(IV) Mary has always vacationed in Brazil for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

(V) *Mary has this year vacationed in Brazil.


(VI) *Always Mary has vacationed in Brazil for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

I suspect my assumption that words like always have the same (lexical/semantic) analysis as phrases like yesterday or this year is incorrect. Yet I don't see any strong reason why sentences like (III) and (V) have to be ungrammatical, other than a quirk of English.

  • III is pretty bad, but V is okay, if you put in some big pauses around it. Mary has, this year, vacationed in Brazil.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:40
  • Without those pauses though it should still be bad (e.g. same intonation as (IV))? Thanks for verifying (III); I had repeated it so much it started to sound fine. Nov 24, 2014 at 23:42
  • Perhaps III would be okay with some big pauses too. Whether bad equals ungrammatical though is hard to say...
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:43
  • Both still sound very marked compared to the "always" examples. My question is why is that the case. Note other adverbs are fine in those positions, e.g. "John amazingly won the Turkey Raffle." Nov 24, 2014 at 23:45
  • 1
    I don't think a "why" question such as this one can be answered. I agree with your concluding remark about this being a quirk of English. I speak a couple of Indian languages, and in both, "always" and "yesterday" can occur in either of the positions you described. I don't think the phenomenon you described pertains to the nature of language like adjective ordering does.
    – prash
    Nov 25, 2014 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


There are many differences between the time adverbials (like yesterday) and "adverbials like always".

Time adverbials are very much like place adverbials (home, there), both of them specify a particular location, in time or in space. Also, both of them are not very specific, we can substitute each of them with lots of synonyms, I can say "Last year I went to the sea." or I can say just the same by "Last summer I went to the sea." or by "Last August I went to the sea." or by "On August 10 I went to the sea." And the same goes about the place adverbials, on my sofa can be substituted by in my room or by at home. Note, none of those substitutions won't change practically anything.

"Adverbials like always" are different. First, their number is limited, they are a closed group, while time and place adverbials are innumerable, they are an open group. Then, they have no synonyms, always looks very much similar to often, still the difference is obvious. These adverbs are very closely connected with verbs, they actually change the meaning of verbs, there is a huge difference between "John comes to us." and "John always comes to us.", the periodicity of the action is absolutely different in the two sentences, but if we take "John came to us last Tuesday." and "John came to us last Wednesday." there is no difference in the manner the action happened, only its location in time is different. It is this interconnection with verbs that makes it possible for them to occupy the place immediately before the predicate.

  • 4
    Yes. Always is a quantifier, and yesterday isn't. That's a big difference. Adverbs are anything that behaves like an adverb (niching in various places, indicating oblique relations); but some are not just adverbs but Operators, with superpowers. Negatives, Quantifiers, and Modals are the Big Three Operators; whenever a sentence has one of them, beware. When it has two or more, find shelter.
    – jlawler
    Nov 25, 2014 at 0:15
  • @jlawler yesterday is an existential quantifier in Davidsonian semantics: it says that there exists a date on which the event took place, and that the date was one less than the utterance date.
    – prash
    Nov 25, 2014 at 16:44
  • No such assertion necessary; the diurnal cycle is a granted (i.e, presupposed) in natural language. It's not necessary to use lambdafication except when nominalizing, and it's optional there.
    – jlawler
    Nov 25, 2014 at 18:34
  • @jlawler such lambdafication even cleans up tense and aspect, so I side with those who treat time as a fundamental aspect of language.
    – prash
    Nov 25, 2014 at 18:55
  • 1
    @jlawler so in your language, what does always quantify over?
    – prash
    Nov 25, 2014 at 19:14

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