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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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5 Answers 5

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

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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I don't really find those examples to show differences in emphasis. Honestly, I don't find those examples useful at all. Not downvoting due to the adverb/adjective distinction, which is useful. – DCShannon Feb 18 at 18:39

... the last movie I played ...

  • Emphasis on movie; this is the most recent movie that has been played. ("The last movie I played was Cinderella")

... the movie I played last

  • This says to me this is the last movie played in a series of movies played. ("I watched the Blade Trilogy on the weekend; Blade III was the movie I played last")
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As everyone else has said, these are essentially the same. In both cases, the meaning I would be most likely to draw from the phrase is 'the movie played most recently'.

That being said, they're not identical. The main difference is that in one 'last' is used as an adjective, and in the other it is used as an adverb.

...the last movie I played...

Here, 'last' is an adjective describing 'movie'. If the movie was the last one, then there aren't any more of them. This usually means that, if you put all the movies this person has ever watched in chronological order, then this movie would be at the end of the list, where there aren't any more.

However, it could potentially mean that this is the last movie this person will ever watch, i.e. it's the last movie of their whole life, not just their life up to this point.

...the movie I played last...

Here, 'last' is used as an adverb to modify 'played'. I find this to unambiguously mean the most recently played movie. Of course, if you happen to have been watching a series of movies, then the last movie in that series would be the one that you played most recently.


Despite the fact that it's the more ambiguous of the two, I think that "the last movie I played" is the more common phrasing, if only because English speakers like to put modifiers before things, rather than after.

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