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It is usual that some adverbs can be used in different positions in a sentence, which causes a change in meaning. And this can be difficult for a non-native speaker to understand. Here is an example which I really don't understand:

  1. Really, I can't sing.

  2. I really can't sing.

  3. I can't really sing.

  4. I can't sing, really.

Would you please show me the difference in meaning between these constructions?

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Some translations:

Really, I can't sing. 

I told you I can't sing, and I meant it.

I really can't sing. 

Here, context and, in speech, emphasis, matter. "I really can't sing" means that I am a terrible singer. But "I really can't sing" means, for example, that I lip-sync pretty well, but I am not actually able to sing.

I can't really sing.

I can speak a song (like Richard Burton in "Camelot,"), but I don't believe that what I do can fairly be called "singing."

I can't sing, really. 

This one could be used in place of any of the other three. Of the four, it relies most heavily in context. It does have an air of humility about it, though, As in "Yeah, some people call it singing, but I have higher standards."

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There is no difference in context in your examples. The position of the adverb in there is only to emphasise on a word or the rest of sentence;

  1. Really, I can't sing. Here Really emphasises on the whole sentence after it.
  2. I really can't sing. Here really emphasises on the modal-verb can't
  3. I can't really sing. Here really emphasises on the action-verb sing
  4. I can't sing, really. Here really, again, emphasises on the whole sentence before it.

Consider, however, the following with differences in context as well as meaning;

  1. Only I watch anime in my free time. Ie, only I watch anime in my free time.
  2. I only watch anime in my free time. Ie, what I do is only watch, which is anime in my free time
  3. I watch only anime in my free time. Ie, I watch nothing but anime in my free time.
  4. I watch anime only in my free time. Ie, I watch anime but only in my free time
  • This positioning of adverbs is slippery, though. If you consider "Basically, I don't agree."; "I basically don't agree"; "I don't, basically, agree" and "I don't agree, basically" you have the same form but the effects of the placing of the adverb is somewhat different from the "Really I can't sing" sentences. I think the differences depend on both the adverb and the verb. Basically, however, I do agree with you. – BoldBen Feb 27 at 8:17

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