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Which of the following is/are correct? A. I only answered two questions. B. I answered only two questions. C. I answered two questions only.

marked as duplicate by Robusto, tchrist, terdon, Janus Bahs Jacquet, Centaurus Mar 22 '15 at 14:39

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  • You forgot Only I answered two questions, which is also perfectly fine. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 22 '15 at 13:56
  • @Janus: Let's not leave out I answered two "only" questions. – Robusto Mar 22 '15 at 14:02
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All are okay.

Following the analysis of "only" in McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, the focus of "only" in your examples is "two". The placement rule is: "only" is attached to a constituent (other than S) containing its focus. The structure of your example A is:

[I [only [VP answered [NP two questions ] ] ] ]

so it satisfies the rule.

  • Exactly. And here's what McCawley said. – John Lawler Mar 22 '15 at 14:23
  • There is a possible alternative reading for I only answered two questions (probably with an exclamation mark). Here, only has pragmatic force, showing surprise at one's ability to manage to answer two questions (I've been in exams like that). 'I suppose you were you out of your depth when people phoned in their queries about how to keep koi after your programme on irises?' 'It was amazing ... I only answered two questions!' – Edwin Ashworth Mar 22 '15 at 14:57
  • The intonation would have to be pretty distinctive for me to infer that sense, I think (since I know nothing about either irises or koi), but I'll take your word for it, @Edwin. Of course, it would be easy to intone it as a repetition: A) "You're off your form -- you only answered two questions." B) "I only answered two questions!?!?! I was lucky to do even that well." – John Lawler Mar 22 '15 at 15:27

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