Saturday, April 23, 2005

always, nearly, only

Almost, nearly, and only are three adverbs that can work interesting changes of meaning on sentences depending on where they are placed in the sentence. They are three words that can cause misplaced modifier errors.

Almost and nearly are synonyms, so they can be used interchangeably.

Start with the sentence: Stuart won fifty dollars.

Add almost before the fifty dollars to have the sentence,

Stuart won almost fifty dollars.

This sentence says Stuart won less than fifty dollars but only a little less that fifty dollars.

In contrast,

Stuart almost won fifty dollars.

This sentence indicates Stuart did not win fifty dollars, but he came close. Perhaps he was playing blackjack and drew cards for 22 when 21 is the winning number.

A few days after I took my masters comprehensive exams, I went to the departmental office to get my results. The secretary told me I was the only one, and my stomach almost hit the floor. Perhaps she saw the look on my face, for I thought I was the only one who failed the exams. She then added that I had received honors. That news made me feel a little better. Well, to be honest, it made me feel a lot better.

Only John got honors.
John only got honors.
John got the only honors.

The first sentence indicates that John was the only one to earn honors. The second sentence indicates that getting honors is not important because there are higher awards. The third sentence is similar to the first sentence in meaning.

Select the correct place to put the adverb so your sentence will clearly express your meaning.

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