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In my textbook I met an expression explaining the difference between modals must,have to,can etc. But my question is about stylistic with the usage of word only.

You can only smoke here.

Is there any difference in meaning if I say:

You can smoke only here

Does it change my sentence or may be its not correct at all?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, user140086, Community Dec 3 '16 at 13:48

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  • 1
    'Only' is a limiting modifier, and these are notoriously difficult to place correctly within a sentence. Only you can smoke here. limits the group allowed to smoke here. // You can smoke only here. limits the locations where smoking is permitted, but is rather stilted. Most people would use You can only smoke here. instead to convey this meaning, but this is a pragmatic concession, as You can only smoke here. if interpreted according to the usual 'place the limiting modifier as close as possible to the element modified' 'rule' invites ... 'not sing, dance or take snuff.' – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '16 at 10:03
  • No, it's fine. The salient meaning of your first example is the same as the second. When the focusing modifier only precedes the focus and the latter is contained within a VP, it is commonly non-adjacent, functioning syntactically as modifier to the whole VP. Prescriptivists will disagree, saying that only should be placed immediately before its focus, but that is at variance with actual usage; I don't think anyone would interpret your first example as meaning "You can only smoke here, and do nothing else". – BillJ Dec 3 '16 at 11:08

Both sentences are exactly the same. There is an implied ambiguity in the first sentence that poets and story-tellers may make use of, in that, literally, it means that the only thing you can do there is smoke.

But the first sentence is the common usage, and it means the same thing as the second sentence. But I've never heard anyone say the second sentence.

  • Hello, 208. Welcome to ELU. Please check that questions are not duplicates before providing an 'answer'. – Edwin Ashworth 5 mins ago – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '16 at 10:11
  • @Rathony Do you think that was Freudian? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '16 at 10:14
  • @EdwinAshworth Well, I am not a mind-reader, but I guess you are thinking about that acronym from time to time. – user140086 Dec 3 '16 at 10:17
  • 'ESL' does seem to constitute a single school, with its own stance on say 'phrasal etc verbs'. Which it arrogates (but then why be different from most other 'authorities'?). Though I consider that the Collins Cobuild series gave us a lot of important data and analysis. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '16 at 10:27

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