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  • Currently the environment is so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken.
  • The environment is currently so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken.

Are both sentences grammatical? Do they convey different meanings depending on where currently is used?

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Currently modifies the whole sentence, so it can be niched anywhere an adverb can go: initially, after environment, after is, after contaminated, and after taken. Probably a comma when it's used at the beginning is a good idea, too, though it's not required if you talk fast. There is no difference in meaning. –  John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 19:34
    
What Prof. Lawler said. –  Robusto Oct 11 '13 at 20:54
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I'd say currently is a rather odd word to use in this context. Usually, if you say X is currently true, the implication is X is sometimes true, and sometimes not (and it just so happens to be true at time of speaking). But in this context, one might reasonably suppose the environment was never "so contaminated" in the past, but it will continue to become even more contaminated in the future unless something is done to prevent this. I'd much prefer "The environment is now so contaminated that...", which emphasises the fact that there's direction in the changing situation. –  FumbleFingers Oct 11 '13 at 21:17
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3 Answers

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but only if you add a comma after 'currently' in the first sentence. This comma is actually required, since "When an introductory adverbial element seems to modify the entire sentence and not just the verb or some single element in the rest of the sentence, put a comma after it." (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas_intro.htm)

When the two sentences are seen in isolation, i.e without any context, there is no difference in meaning between them. However, the first sentence might be preferable if it follows one or more sentences where this issue has already been introduced, and the word 'currently' functions as a linking word. The second sentence would probably function better as an introductory sentence of a paragraph.

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There is no comma in spoken language; this is a trivial matter of punctuation, not of grammar. Syntax has to do with the order of actual words; a comma is not a word. –  Kaz Oct 11 '13 at 21:09
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The word "currently" is an adverb which modifies "is". The difference between the two sentences is the relative position of "currently" and "the environment". But "the environment" is a noun phrase which has no semantic interaction with "currently"; its position relative to "currently" does not matter.

The position of an adverb would be critical, if it changes what the adverb applies to. If a sentence has multiple clauses, and the adverb moves from one clause to another, that will almost certainly change the meaning.

Another example is if there is a compound verb in a clause:

You had better quickly run and hide.

You had better run and quickly hide.

In the first sentence it is ambiguous whether quickly applies to "run and hide" or just to "run". In the second sentence, it applies only to hide.

(Since we are swapping the position of a verb and adverb, and verbs interact with adverbs, and relative position of words in English influences meaning, we have to suspect there is a difference in meaning.)

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They have slightly different meanings. Consider the following pair:

  1. The environment is so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken now.
  2. The environment is now so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken.

I think the first of your two options can mean either 1 or 2 (or is ambiguous between them), but the second can only mean 2.

Put another way, I'm inclined to say that if two sentences have a difference in focus, they have a difference in meaning. And I think they do have a difference in focus.

Also, in my neck of the woods, the second sentence would more probably be worded like this:

The environment currently is so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken.

I think that sounds more forceful; I don't know why -- maybe something to do with not separating 'is' and 'so'.

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I'm with Prof. Lawler. I don't see a dime's worth of difference between 'em. –  Robusto Oct 11 '13 at 20:49
    
Here's another argument: Only the second sentence is a natural answer to the question "When will the environment be so contaminated that urgent measures should be taken?" –  Merk Oct 11 '13 at 20:58
    
Er, but this is a straw-man argument. Either you're going to answer the OP's question or you aren't. To my way of thinking, you haven't done that yet. –  Robusto Oct 11 '13 at 21:00
    
I think you mean question-begging argument, not straw-man argument, which is quite different. Anyway, my argument is that two things mean different things if only one of them can be the correct answer to a question, and it relies on the fact that the OP shares my intuition about that (he might not) and that it is a different intuition than one that is confronted by merely comparing the sentences as posed. (just as "The apple looks red" and "The apple does look red" appear to mean the same thing.) –  Merk Oct 11 '13 at 21:10
    
I'm referring the way you changed the example. You are arguing about a case that is different and potentially easier to resolve than what the OP presented. That is the very definition of a straw man. –  Robusto Oct 11 '13 at 21:41
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