I've noticed that Americans often place adverbial phrases that set the scene at the start of the sentence:Indeed, all of these are available in either dialect, and Algeo's British or American English reports that some temporal adverbials occur in medial position more often in BrE than in AmE--though they most often occur in initial or final position in main clauses. He lists during the week, earlier in the week, last night/year, now, this afternoon, today and yesterday as more often occuring medially in journalistic BrE than AmE. Now, I haven't the wherewithal to do a big search, but I searched for at the time in the Guardian on-line and the Chicago Tribune on-line, and counted the first 30 main-clause-modifying at the times in each paper according to whether they occurred at the beginning, middle or end of a past-tense clause. I didn't count at the time when it was part of a longer phrase like at the time of his confinement (because the length of a clause might make it more likely to hang out at the end of the clause), and I limited myself to past tense clauses. My results:
At the time, I was not very interested in his work.
British writers, in contrast, are more likely to put the adverbial element in the middle of the sentence, or at the end.
I was not, at the time, very interested in his work.
I was not very interested in his work at the time.
I believe all these word orders are available in both dialects; it's a question of preference, at least in formal writing.
The moral of the story is: if there is a difference, we're going to have to look at a lot more sentences to build up enough steam to see a significant pattern.
newspaper beginning middle end Guardian (UK) 10 6 14 Tribune (US) 13 4 13
But I do want to note that when these adverbials occur sentence-initially, they are much more likely to be followed by a comma in AmE than in BrE. Searching the Guardian and Tribune sites again and just looking at sentence-initial At the time, 27 out of 30 Tribune instances are followed by a comma, while only 13 of 30 Guardian ones are. (You might protest that this depends on the style sheet of the newspaper and the vigilance of its [AmE] copy editors/[BrE] sub-editors, but note that each of these searches included blogs and readers' comments as well as newspaper text.) In general, British readers find AmE writing too littered with commas, while overly-literate punctuation-dependent AmE readers like me (I presume there are less punctuation-dependent readers who aren't terribly bothered) find themselves having to start sentences over again because we assume that the adverbial phrase hasn't ended yet, but then it doesn't develop into anything bigger. So I read:
At the time he...And because there isn't a comma to stop the adverbial, I wait for the he to develop into a relative clause that modifies time (e.g. At the time he ascended to the throne, he was only 17). It doesn't matter to my reading mind that a that-less relative clause is not a likely thing to happen after a pronoun after at the time, I HAVEN'T HAD A COMMA YET! THERE ARE NO BRAKES ON THIS THING! I DON'T KNOW HOW TO STOP!!!
But back to word order.
Adverbials like at the time or last night tell you when something happened, and contrast with adverbs of frequency (always, often, never, etc.), which usually occur in a medial position in either dialect. However, the dialects differ in the placement of these with respect to auxiliary verbs. To quote Algeo "American has a higher tolerance for placement before the first auxiliary". So, either of the following is grammatical in BrE or AmE, but the second is more likely to occur in AmE:
She is usually at work before 9. (BrE or AmE)Now, it's more likely in AmE than BrE, but usually is not more likely in AmE than is usually. As Algeo says, AmE just has a 'higher tolerance' for it. I've just searched for always, usually, and never in my blog posts and found that I've never put them before the auxiliary--except when I used examples because I already wrote about this phenomenon a bit with never. (I thought I was sounding familiar to myself...)
She usually is at work before 9. (more likely in AmE)
Another adverbial order difference that Algeo notes concerns adverbs of possibility, like certainly or probably. Searching in the Cambridge International Corpus, he found the following, expressed in 'instances per ten million words':
So, again, one can say either in either dialect, but He has certainly left his mark is more likely in BrE and He certainly has left his mark is more likely in AmE. Of course, this works with auxiliary verbs other than has as well.
AmE has certainly 22.7
13.4 certainly has 11.7
22.2 has probably 21.2
14.5 probably has 8.8
In other business:
The folks at myGengo, a translation company, have put a mini-review of SbaCL on their 'translation resources' pages, so here is some free publicity for them in return. (I've not used them, so can't vouch for anything, but it looks like an interesting concept.)