Is there any difference between those sentences?

  1. I was there to get a hair cut yesterday.

  2. I was there yesterday to get a hair cut.

  3. Option one is to invest the money so that it will compound annually for the next ten years at the rate of 4%.

  4. Option one is to invest the money so that it will compound annually at the rate of 4% for the next 10 years.

Do these sentences gain any difference in meaning by reversing the order?

  • 1
    In one and two, the difference is between setting the scene before telling a story, and pitching right in, the haircut is part of the narrative; in three and four there are different levels of commitment. – Hugh Sep 2 '15 at 23:50
  • Can you elaborate the difference between one and two a little more? I don't fully understand the difference.They just seem the same to me. – sooeithdk Sep 2 '15 at 23:52
  • @Hugh I believe that if you invested $100 under either 3 or 4, at the end of ten years, you'd have $148.02 no matter which you chose. – deadrat Sep 3 '15 at 0:40
  • @deadrat Do number one and two seem different to you? – sooeithdk Sep 3 '15 at 0:41
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    @sooeithdk They seem identical to me, but why would you go to get one hair cut? – deadrat Sep 3 '15 at 0:56

In writing, placing a word or phrase at the end of a sentence generally gives it greater focus. So in "I was there to get a hair cut yesterday," the focus is on when the subject got his hair cut, whereas in "I was there yesterday to get a hair cut," the focus is on why the subject was there yesterday. Of course, when speaking we tend to use stress and intonation more than word order to show this.

  • Thank you for the description. It is very well explained. – sooeithdk Sep 3 '15 at 3:25

The real difference comes when they are in context, e.g.

Didn't I see you in the shopping centre recently?

Maybe - I was there to get a haircut yesterday.

Have you visited the new shopping centre yet?

I was there yesterday to get a haircut.


I'm not saying that it's impossible to swap those over but there really is a difference according to context. The other thing to take note of, and unfortunately it cannot be shown via text, is the different intonation that goes with the sentences.

  • Oh...so the first one emphasizes the time but the second one emphasizes the purpose? – sooeithdk Sep 3 '15 at 0:47
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    I have just experimented with different tonalities. I can say the first sentence in at least four different ways without any difficulty and the nuances are different. The true distinction is that it's possible to vary both versions tonally but not equally. Unless I start using musical notation I don't know how to express it better :-( – chasly from UK Sep 3 '15 at 0:58
  • In the first sentence, "I was there to get a hair cut yesterday", does yesterday modify the whole sentence or only " to get a hair cut" part? – sooeithdk Sep 3 '15 at 1:18
  • Perhaps it's just me, since everybody else seems to find the different nuances without trouble. Suppose you had two groups of 100 people, and you had the first group read the sentence with "yesterday" at the end and the second group read the sentence with "haircut" at the end. Then you asked all 200, "Where was I, when did I go, and why was I there?" Do you suppose the answers would differ across the two groups? – deadrat Sep 3 '15 at 19:59

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