"generally good practice" - Where to place an article?

English Language & Usage Asked by jsv on September 3, 2020

Sometimes we need to say that something is a good practice. I don’t understand where to place an article. I checked multiple sources and it seems they use it differently: before "generally", before "good", or none.

This is a generally good practice for any URL embedded in webpages or emails that might have any side-effects when invoked. –

Having said that, I do have to agree with what Amy said, "Chinese parents assume strength, not fragility," and it is generally a good practice. – The New Yorker

This is bear country, but by late fall all but the oldest males have headed into hibernation. It is generally good practice, however, to pack food in a tightly sealed container and leave it well outside the tent. – The New York Times – Travel

One Answer

I think that FumbleFingers has nailed this in his second comment above.

An adverb precedes the adjective that it qualifies. E.g. a generally sound night's sleep is a night's sleep that is generally sound, a generally good dancer is a dancer who is generally good, and a generally fine day in Alaska is a day that is generally fine.

If "generally" occurs before a determined noun phrase then it can be taken as qualifying the entire phrase or VP. E.g. it can be taken as meaning "usually" in "It is generally a fine day in California".

The word "generally", like "only", is often misplaced (or at least misleadingly placed), but it is more considerate to the reader to avoid placing it between an article and an adjective if it is not intended to qualify the adjective.

To talk of something being generally good practice is not to say that the practice is generally good, but rather that in general it is good practice. That is, "generally" qualifies more than the mere adjective "good". Logically, then, it belongs before the article if there is one. It is generally better practice to say "generally a good practice" than to say "a generally good practice", and the ngram supports this.

Correct answer by Pax on September 3, 2020

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