Modifiers Can Move Around–And Change the Meaning!

Some modifiers can move around.  When they do, the meaning of the sentence can change.


This post appeared in my FB news feed on Valentine’s Day.  Look at all of the different places that the word “only” can go.  Notice how the meaning changes with each variation.

  1.  She told him she loved him only.
    • (… and she loves NOTHING else–not chocolate, not coffee, not Netflix!)
  2. She told him she loved only him.
    • (and not that other guy in the next cubicle at work)
  3. She told him she, only, loved him.
    • (no other people loved him)
  4. She told him only (that) she loved him.
    • (she added no other information to her message)
  5. She told only him that she loved him.
    • (No one else knows.  You know how people gossip!)
  6. She only told him that she loved him.
    • (so I’m not sure why he ran screaming from the room…It’s not like she said she was pregnant!)

Pretty cool, huh?

Other modifiers can do similar feats:

  1. Some people have knowledge of the universe.
    • (and others don’t)
  2. People have some knowledge of the universe.
    • (but there’s a lot they still don’t know)
  3. People have knowledge of some universe.
    • (we’re not sure which universe or where)

English makes one’s head spin, right?