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To my mind this:

Entity foo varies seemingly at random.

is semantically equivalent to this:

Entity foo varies, seemingly, at random.

However, is this necessarily the case? What alternative, dissimilar interpretations might exist for each sentence?

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I'm actually trying to find a place to move a comma (after "foo") and place a semicolon somewhere! :) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo Apr 26 '11 at 18:23
    
@pagemen: A dash can work: "Entity foo varies -- seemingly at random." –  MrHen Apr 26 '11 at 21:10
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I disagree that these sentences are equivalent. To me, the first sentence is parsed like this:

Entity foo varies, seemingly at random.

ie seemingly refers to the randomness, not the variation. In the second, to my mind, seemingly refers to the variation.

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An interesting distinction. Why do you parse the sentences as you do? Could it be equally valid to make your assertion in reverse, as it were: the second seeingly refers to the randomness and the first to the variation? –  troutwine Apr 26 '11 at 20:59
    
@trout: In this case the parenthetical signals that it deals with what just came before. The same thing happens in "I ate two meals, one of which was pizza, before I went to bed." –  MrHen Apr 26 '11 at 21:12
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In my mind, these two are more equivalent:

Entity foo seemingly varies at random

Entity foo varies, seemingly, at random

"Seemingly" can modify "varies" or "random". The distinction is less significant in this example but in other contexts it could matter more:

I am angry at random

I am seemingly angry at random

I am angry, seemingly, at random

I am angry seemingly at random

The relevant distinction is do I seem angry or am I angry at seemingly random times? The middle example appears the most ambiguous. For completeness, here are other ways of wording the sentences:

I seem angry at random

It seems I am angry at random

I am angry at random, it seems

The distinction between "angry" in these sentences also applies to "varies" in the original examples.

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I agree that in other contexts the distinction is much more significant; I thank you for your contribution but I am interested in the more subtle distinctions of the example sentences above. –  troutwine Apr 26 '11 at 21:01
    
@trout: That is what I was trying to convey. I added a bit at the end; hope that helps. :P –  MrHen Apr 26 '11 at 21:09
    
Quite so; thank you for the clarification edit. –  troutwine Apr 27 '11 at 4:05
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