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Do adverbs modify the verb as well as the phrase in a situation like this? "I played the game quickly." To me, it would make sense for quickly to modify played the game because the person did not just play quickly but did the entire action of playing the game quickly. Am I correct?

  • Sounds right to me. – Xanne Apr 6 '17 at 9:06
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There is something right about this, but I tend to think that, rather than modifying either the verb alone or the entire verb phrase, quickly modifies either the verb phrase alone (which specifies an action) or the sentence that includes both subject and verb phrase (which specifies an event).

Sentence initial position favors the sentence modifier interpretation, “Quickly, I played the game”, which means that a short time elapsed between some previous event of interest and my playing the game, while sentence final position favors the verb phrase modifier interpretation, which means the manner of play was rapid.

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I played the game quickly.

I is a singular, first person, subject pronoun.

played is a verb in the simple past tense.

the game is the object of the sentence, 'the' being the definite article, and 'game' being a generic noun.

quickly is an adverb.

The sentence structure is Subject Verb Object (SVO).

We now determine whether 'quickly' is acting on 'played' as a verb, or 'played the game' as a noun phrase.

But adverbs can't modify nouns, or noun phrases, so 'quickly' is only modifying 'played', implying you played the game at speed (as opposed to slowly).

This is backed up by sports, a 'game' is usually played for a pre-determined amount of time, and therefore cannot be played 'quickly'.

The alternative sentence structure is to write:

I quickly played the game.

which manages to convey the intention of playing a game in a shorter amount of time than usual.

The object is still not being modified by the adverb - this would result in either 'game quickly' or 'quickly game' constructs, which are nonsense.

The differences between the two sentences can be seen as:

played (the game) quickly

and

quickly (played the game)

This is known as adverb placement. In the second sentence, the adverb is modifying the verb phrase 'played the game'.

  • Using this logic, saying "I played that game of solitaire quickly" is stating that I used quick actions, but indicating nothing about the duration of the actual game. What am I missing? – Davo Apr 6 '17 at 11:16
  • Erm, the adverb is modifying the verb phrase in both instances (which is why it can go on either side of it). – Araucaria Apr 6 '17 at 12:00

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