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Which sentence structure is more accurate?

  1. ... that sounds almost like a command.
  2. ... that almost sounds like a command.
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5 Answers 5

Both structures are fully grammatical. There is a very slight difference, not really in meaning, but in emphasis:

That sounds almost like a command.

This puts the emphasis on "sounds".

That almost sounds like a command.

This puts the emphasis on "almost".

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+1 for the Mistress of Thwack, for almost answering exactly as I would have, or exactly answering almost as I would have: I can't make up my mind. –  Robusto May 18 '11 at 20:49
    
@Robusto: uh, Thwack!. I think. –  Marthaª May 18 '11 at 22:03
    
@Robusto: In this case I think we can safely say @Martha didn't almost answer as you would. If the difference was so slight that even you couldn't distinguish what she wrote from what you would have, she didn't almost manage it - she really did it! –  FumbleFingers May 19 '11 at 2:53
    
@Robusto I'd go with "answering almost exactly". –  Brilliand Apr 1 at 21:11

Both are grammatically correct.

I think that in your specific example, most English speakers would have difficulty saying what the difference in meaning might be.

But if you were to change the verb:

He almost barked like a dog. (Meaning he did not bark)

Vs

He barked almost like a dog. (Meaning he barked, but maybe he sounded like a seal.)

Those have very different meanings.

My best guess to explain this is that "sounds like [...]" is a phrasal verb, while "bark like [...]" is a verb followed by an adverbial phrase. Some would people would say that "bark like" is incorrect. They might object to "like" and "as" being used interchangeably. They would prefer "He almost barked as a dog." or "He barked almost as a dog."

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I think it's disingenuous of you to switch from OP's sounds to your barked. It implies at least the possibility of there being some subtle distinction in OP's example, which yours might help identify. But there simply is no such distinction in his case. –  FumbleFingers May 19 '11 at 2:49
    
@Fumble. Thanks for pointing that out. I'm not trying implying a subtle distinction between the asker's two examples. I certainly would not be able to point to a difference in meaning in the asker's examples, and I stated as much. I am merely pointing out that that particular lack of distinction is not necessarily true to seemingly similar verb phrases. Feel free to avail yourself of down-votes and edits if you feel it is appropriate. –  NateMPLS May 19 '11 at 3:08
    
I certainly wouldn't downvote your answer. It's true, interesting, well-expressed, and to a certain extent relevant. I think really we probably agree about OP's examples themselves. But you slightly hedge your bets by saying "most English speakers [would] have difficulty" distinguishing them, where I'm happy to come right out and say any that did would just be making things up. And even your examples aren't clear-cut - some speakers would use your first form to mean the second. Ambiguity abounds around the word almost. –  FumbleFingers May 19 '11 at 3:19
    
Well met. Again, thanks for your input. :-) –  NateMPLS May 19 '11 at 3:23

I think there's no difference whatsoever in the two forms.

They mean exactly the same thing, they're used in exactly the same way, and I see no point in attempting to identify subtle differences that aren't really there.

Having said that, I'm intrigued by this NGram showing that whilst sounds almost like has always been the more common form, almost sounds like has gradually been creeping up over the last century. I really can't explain this shift, but it does seem to be a real effect.

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If pressed, I would say #1: it (whatever "that" is) definitely "sounds", it doesn't almost "sound". The almost applies to the degree to which that "sounding" is "like a command".

Edit: Per Jason's comment, I'm inclined to withdraw this answer. I had said "if pressed", because it really looked like an extremely fine point in the first place. It looks as if it was a vanishingly fine point. :)

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In #2, the adverb almost applies to the whole VP sounds like a command, not just the verb sounds. Both #1 and #2 are perfectly sensible. –  Jason Orendorff May 18 '11 at 23:21

That sounds almost like a command is more appropriate as it emphasizes the correct part of the sentence i.e. "sounds".
When I say "almost sounds", it is indicating the sound part to be incomplete, which is not the case.
Hence, in my opinion, That sounds almost like a command is correct!

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