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    #1

    Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Let me start with a joke:
    Why are violinists the worst lovers?
    Because they ONLY know one position
    .
    Isnt it more natural to put the adverb 'only' AFTER the verb know?
    Because they know ONLY one position.
    In some sentences, the initial position of the adverb only could create an element of ambiguity, couldnt it?

  1. Piscean's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    It could, and purists, including me, are careful with where we place 'only'. However, most people these days aren't too worried about this. Common sense usually removes potential ambiguity,

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    #3

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    The natural place for only in that sentence (at least in AmE) is before the verb. If we wanted to say that violinists are the only ones who know, we'd say Because only they know one position.
    I am not a teacher.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Quote Originally Posted by GoesStation View Post
    The natural place for only in that sentence (at least in AmE) is before the verb.
    That is not the case for AusE, and I'd guess BrE. 'Only' comes before the modified element. Here, that element is 'one'.
    How many positions do they know? Only one. Correct.
    What do they do? They only know. Wrong.

    PS: Not sure about the joke. Wouldn't that apply to most members of an orchestra, and probably half of professions and trades as well?
    Last edited by Raymott; 07-Mar-2016 at 09:26.

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    #5

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    I went into a Publix supermarket in Florida once to buy beer. A notice said ALCOHOL ONLY SOLD ON SUNDAY AFTER 10 A.M.

    I was so disappointed: it was only Friday and I hadn't time to wait.

    If 'only' had been placed after 'Sunday' instead ...

  3. kilroy65's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    I often use these examples to illustrate how the position of "only" may change the meaning of the sentence:

    1. The girl only nodded to John when she came in.
    2. The girl nodded only to John when she came in.

    3. The customer only looked at the ties.
    4. The customer looked only at the ties.

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    #7

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Nevertheless, in AmE Because they only know one position is the natural, clearly understandable word order for that sentence.
    I am not a teacher.

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    #8

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Don't confuse the natural order with the logical one.

  4. Roman55's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Quote Originally Posted by GoesStation View Post
    Nevertheless, in AmE Because they only know one position is the natural, clearly understandable word order for that sentence.
    The problem with this sort of thing is that nuances of meaning are then made unavailable.

    As Piscean wrote in post #2, using common sense we know what is meant. But then what do you say if the only thing they know is one position?
    I am not a teacher

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    #10

    Re: Position of the adverb only in a sentence

    Quote Originally Posted by Roman55 View Post
    The problem with this sort of thing is that nuances of meaning are then made unavailable.
    I agree that preserving nuances of meaning is a worthwhile goal. It's important to learn potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. This is taken too far, though, when the overwhelming popular choice is dismissed as incorrect.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roman55 View Post
    As Piscean wrote in post #2, using common sense we know what is meant. But then what do you say if the only thing they know is one position?
    I think you've written an excellent example of how to express that idea: The only thing they know is one position.
    I am not a teacher.

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