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On a chat channel today I was reading two people talk about some of the more popular movie formats and movie players available. One of the interlocutors said something that got me thinking. I will cut quick to my question. Is there a semantic difference between the following two phrases:

... the last movie I played ...


... the movie I played last ...

To my non-native English ears and eyes, I fail to see a difference. But reading these two phrases again and again makes me uneasy. The more I read them, the more I feel that the first phrase gives off a whiff that would suggest that the speaker/writer does not watch movies very often, while the latter would identify someone who watches movies all the time. What do you folks think?

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3 Answers 3

In the first phrase, last is used an adjective to describe the noun movie.

In the second phrase, last is used as an adverb to descrive the verb played.

While both the phrases mean the same thing, we may sometimes use words as adjectives or adverbs to emphasize the noun or the verb. Consider these examples:

There were 14 cars on offer at the dealer's. I liked the last car I drove, so I bought that one. (Last describes the car.)

There were 14 cars on offer at the dealer's. I didn't think the Ford was worth much, so that's the car I drove last. (Last describes driving.)

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These are all equivalent:

  1. the last movie I played
  2. the movie last I played
  3. the movie I last played
  4. the movie I played last

#1 and #4 are the most common; #3 is heard occasionally, and #2 is archaic and used very rarely. All of them refer to the most recent movie that the speaker played, or the final movie in a set.

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The second quote

... the movie I played last ...

gives me the impression that this movie was the last in a sequence of movies played rather than the most recent movie.

I don't feel that either phrase implies a higher frequency of movie playing.

I'm an American though, so perhaps the usage differs in the UK and Australia.

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I had quite a bit of trouble using "played" instead of "watched" when typing this answer. Is "played" vernacular in a certain region? –  Dan King Dec 27 '10 at 8:08
I think we respondents are just taking care to use "played" because that's what the OP said, and we don't know the context. Watched is definitely more common around here in the States. –  Jon Purdy Dec 27 '10 at 8:25

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