“Only”: The Most Insidious Misplaced Modifier
How putting the word “only” in the wrong place can confuse your readers
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Context Matters When Placing Adverbs
To sum up, you should definitely try in written English to put “only” as close as possible to the word or phrase it modifies. However, be aware that doing this won’t eliminate every possible ambiguity. You have to rely on context, and if the context doesn’t make things clear enough, you may still need to rephrase to clarify. Conversely, don’t insist at all costs on precise placement of “only.” If the context makes your meaning clear, then let the rhythm of the sentence tell you where to put the “only.”
1. Kilpatrick, J. “If we could only get this one right.” Eugene Register-Guard. January 14, 2007. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=4WBWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tfADAAAAIBAJ&pg=6697%2C2895111 (accessed February 28, 2013).
2. Kilpatrick, J. “Perspective: In praise of ‘only,’ but place it in the right place.” St. Augustine.com. January, 20, 2003. http://staugustine.com/stories/012003/opi_perp.shtml (accessed February 28, 2013).