I bow automatically/spontaneously

I bow automatically/spontaneously whenever I see my school principal.

Which is the correct adverb? If neither, what is the correct word?



I automatically bow when I see my principal.

I bow spontaneously when I see my principal.


Spontaneously means it’s completely unplanned. It also implies that’s not something done very regularly or out of habit.

“I bow automatically/spontaneously whenever I see my school principal.”

The word whenever means you bow every time. This would not be spontaneous. It would be habitual.

I bow automatically/spontaneously when I see my school principal.

When is almost as strong as whenever. It strongly implies that it’s habitual. So it can not be spontaneous.

Automatic and spontaneous are almost opposites. I can’t think of any case where something could be both automatic and spontaneous.


Other adverbs might be habitually or reflexively.
It depends on what you intend to say.
Much of what you probably mean is carried by using whenever. That is, every time you see the principal you bow.

BTW, it may just be a question of style, but I would turn the sentence around:
“Whenever I see my school principal, I bow [adverb].
It first “sets the stage” that this happens every time you see him.


@Torsten @NearlyNapping I have issues with adverbs. Sometimes I find it difficult were to place the adverbs either before or after the verb. Torsten you placed the adverb before the verb while Nearlynapping put the adverb after the verb. Are both versions correct? Are there any rules to make it easier to understand where adverbs should be placed? thanks


I just quoted the original sentence which had the adverb after the verb. I was making a point about words like ‘whenever’ and ‘when’. I didn’t want to introduce other variables.

In the original sentence, I think placing the adverb before the verb is somewhat better. But it’s OK to place it after.

There are no universal rules on the placement of adverbs. There are some rules of thumb and specific word combinations, but no universal rule. Personally I use whichever method seems more clear. But even as a native speaker, I’m often unsure which way to do it.

To stress the adverb, you would normally place it before the verb.

I automatically bow when I see the principal.
I bow automatically when I see the principal.
I bow when I see the principal.

The first sentence stresses that it’s automatic.
The second sentence stresses ‘bow’, with ‘automatic’ being less important.
The third sentence removes the adverb completely.

However, the difference between the three sentences is very subtle. If the intent of the writer is to stress that it’s automatic, then the first sentence is best. Otherwise it might be best to leave the adverb out completely.

By the way. I did a search and read several explanations of adverb placement. I was not satisfied with any of them. It’s very situational.


Thanks for your detailed explanation. I searched on the internet regarding adverbs placement several times and like you said, the information is quite confusing. That’s why I asked you and Torsten for help.


…and if I tried to explain it, it would be just as confusing. I’m a native speaker and it’s confusing.