Understanding Adverbs: Always
The film “Casablanca” is one of the most famous American movies of all time.
At the end of the film, the actor Humphrey Bogart says a heartbreaking farewell to the woman he loves.
Bergman: But what about us?
Bogart: We'll always have Paris.
Besides affecting one’s emotions, this movie scene can teach you a lot about English grammar. It can show you how English speakers use adverbs in a sentence.
In our program today, we explore a single word: always. We will discover why Bogart said his famous line the way he did.
Do not worry. Unlike the ending of “Casablanca,” we will not leave you in tears!
Adverbs and Movability
In other Everyday Grammar stories, we explored adverbs.
Adverbs are words that change the meaning of a verb, adjective, or sentence. They are often used to show time, place, or a way of doing things.
Adverbs are often movable. They can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.
Consider these examples:
Occasionally I eat seafood.
I occasionally eat seafood.
I eat seafood occasionally.
In this example, the adverb occasionally appears in three different places in the sentence. The placement of the adverb does not change the meaning. All three sentences have the same meaning. Most English speakers would not think it strange if you used any one of these sentences.
Always is not as movable
What about the adverb always?
In general, the adverb always is not as movable as other kinds of adverbs – like the word occasionally.
You will not often hear an English speaker use always at the beginning or the end of a sentence.
Most often, you will hear always in the middle of the sentence, before the verb it is modifying.
In some cases, you might hear it at the beginning of a sentence – when giving an order or command, for example.*
Or you might hear it at the end of a sentence, but usually only in an artistic setting: a poetry reading or a musical performance, for example.
But the central point is this: in speaking and in writing, always does not move its position as often as other adverbs.
So, if you were to take our example sentence, "I eat seafood," and use the adverb always, you could say, "I always eat seafood."
Always generally is found after “BE” verbs and auxiliary verbs, but before other verbs.
You will find this structure in many popular films. Consider this famous line from “A Streetcar Named Desire:”
"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
In the example, always appears after the auxiliary verb, have, and just before the main verb, depended.
This same idea is true of Bogart's famous line from “Casablanca,”
"We'll always have Paris."
"We'll" is a short way to say, "we will." Always appears after the auxiliary verb, will, and before the main verb, have.
You might think that our story about the word always ends here, but it does not!
English speakers can also change the meaning of always.
When you hear or read the adverb always in its usual position, before the verb it is modifying. It generally has the meaning of habitually.
However, sometimes you will hear English speakers emphasize the word always.
In this case, the meaning of the sentence has changed. Think back to our example sentence: "I always eat seafood."
This sentence means that you usually eat seafood – perhaps when you go to a restaurant.
If the speaker says, "I ALWAYS eat seafood," with the emphasis on the word "always," then the speaker is expressing annoyance. Perhaps the speaker is angry that another person – a close friend, for example – did not remember they like to eat seafood when they go out to dinner.
Here is another example: you hear a child say, "My father always works late on Thursdays." This sentence uses the adverb always to express a habitual or common action.
However, if you hear the child say, "My dad ALWAYS works late on Thursdays," then you know that the child is unhappy with the father's work schedule.
What can you do?
So, now you know that if Bogart had used the emphasized always in the film Casablanca, the ending of the film would have been very different.
The next time you are listening or speaking, try to pay attention to the placement of the word always. Then, try to identify if it is emphasized or not. This will help you understand the speaker's feelings.
Remember: English does not always communicate meaning through grammar. Emphasis plays an important role in showing the meaning of a sentence.
With practice, you, too, will be able to use always like a native speaker!
I’m Pete Musto.
And I'm John Russell.
John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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*Always can begin imperative sentences. Here is an example: Always wear your seatbelt.