Student or Learner
Could you tell me what the sentence means:
Could you very sweetly tell me a story?
Does it mean 'with a nice voice' or... I don't know.
Thank you in advance.
So you think sweetly belongs to could?
That means this would have the same meaning (if it's actually true):
Could you be so sweet and tell me a story?
Good question. If I put aside everything and allow my brain to use only my knowledge in syntax, yes, I would say 'sweetly' describes 'tell'. But I will not resort to syntax only because I feel that would be a bad decision.
If I look at the meaning, I would say 'sweetly', although carries all the features I have learnt about adverbs, is attached to the referent of 'you'. It describes 'you'. Adjectival. And here we go, at the end of my tether.
Could you--if you would be so very sweet as to--tell me a story?It's a possible interpretation, one that would require punctuation, though; but, even then it would be ambiguous:
- Could you--very sweetly--tell me a story?
- in a sweet voice <default reading>
- be so kind as to
The problem is that the adverb lacks an implied subject; we'd have to give it one for the phrase to carry the meaning you want:
- Could you, if you'd be so kind as to, tell me a story?
It's true that it's ambiguous but on first reading it, I automatically connected "very sweetly" with "could".
Could the reason you read it as modifying could be because very sweetly is emphasized?
- Could you very sweetly tell me a story?
Or could it be that could 's modality forces that reading? That is, could is akin in meaning to would you be so kind as to.
The syntactic approach to decoding this is clearly limited as this is a sentence you'd find in spoken communication, which as we know can diverge from explicit rules of syntax in favour of any number of other cues (especially if it's not presented in the style we'd expect - be that a child, an English learner or somebody with a different dialect of English). It could mean "read it sweetly" or "be so sweet as to read it" - both of which would be achievable through intonation and stress in the sentence. I think if we heard it, we'd instinctively know what the person meant, but as it is just one sentence that's been presented to us out of context, we can't say what it means.