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I wrote the following in an article.

It remains only to eliminate the intersections which can be proven to be empty.

My proofreader corrected to the following by changing the word order.

It only remains to eliminate the intersections which can be proven to be empty.

I prefer my formulation, because I feel it expresses my sentiment correctly. However, when writing for an international readership, is my formulation wrong, misleading, or confusing?

What is the difference in meaning between the two formulations?

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    Your PR is right. – Kris Aug 16 '18 at 8:03
  • "The only thing that remains is to eliminate ...." – Kris Aug 16 '18 at 8:04
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    Putting the adverb after the verb can sound slightly archaic or poetic. I would only do it for a specific effect, not for clarity. – user184130 Aug 16 '18 at 8:43
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Your proofreader is not obviously correct.

Like many constructions, this one is a matter of style and not one of necessity.

Although it might sound a little strange, it's not ungrammatical to write it remains only.

I found several instances online where this word order was used and will mention two notable ones:

  • A seemingly anonymous Italian proverb (here, from The Gold Scales—although it's found at other sites, all with the same spelling and punctuation):

    A chi vuol fare, non manca che fare.
    To him who is determined it remains only to act.

  • A legal article titled "Law and Political Reality" by D Zeffertt:

    Be that as it may, it remains only to remark that neither Lynch nor Goliath was a case in which the person under duress was the actual killer.

I do find it has a stylistic sense to it that I would not normally use but which actually seems appropriate in the above two contexts (poetic and highly formal).

More interesting, is that Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that it only remains has only a slight edge over it remains only in the written form even though, surprisingly, it remains only, which sounds more archaic, was actually far less common than it only remains in the past.

it remains only

As a note, if you switch to the American corpus, the two seem to be even closer; if you switch to the British corpus, it only remains has more of a lead in usage.

For an international audience, your preferred usage may be less common. But it's not clearly an error and, strictly speaking, not something a proofreader should be flagging (as opposed to an editor, who is more concerned with style in some cases). Any "advice" beyond that would have to be based on how it fits into the rest of your article stylistically.

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When talking about purpose, "only" generally comes before the verb that purpose is explaining. For example, "I went to the store only to buy socks." is rather unnatural. It sounds more like a different grammar form "only to [happen]" which is about a surprising event. Far more natural (and easier to understand) would be "I only went to the store to buy socks." This "only" still describes the purpose; that is, it means that the only reason I went there was "to buy socks".

So your proofreader is correct. Placing "only" before the verb "remains" is far more correct and understandable.

It's worth reiterating, though, what Kris said in a comment. Rather than "It only remains to..." a far more natural thing to say would be:

"The only thing that remains is to..."

This solves the problem using "only" with a verb, and is much more clear than the dummy pronoun "it".

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