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My question is about the adverb placement "really" when combined with "could" and the present perfect in a sentence. Below are four possibilities.

  1. I really could have made more cake.
  2. I could really have made more cake.
  3. I could have really made more cake.
  4. I could have made more cake really.

Here the word "really" is the sense of "indeed", "truly". The attempted intent of the sentences above is that I had a great chance to make more cake but I didn't do so out of laziness, let's say.

Do all of the above sentences convey that same meaning? And if not what is the difference between them?

Thanks

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    I could have made it. has several meanings and "really" has several meanings: Without context, these are therefore poor examples. ++ And which one is the most common? It doesn't matter which is the most common - The thing that matters is "What do you want the sentence to mean?"
    – Greybeard
    Jul 7 '20 at 8:37
  • I've edited the question to make it clearer.
    – JCr
    Jul 7 '20 at 10:14
  • I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer the twinning of 'really' and 'should' in a self-abasement usage. I'd say 'could' as essentially a hedged form of 'should' works better with 'you', in a typical reprimand. I'd expect 'I suppose I could have made more cake' as a grudging confession. // As @Greybeard says, intonation is [nearly] all here, and punctuation is really needed to show stress and cadence. Jul 7 '20 at 10:50
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The emphasis and tone of "really" will have an effect on the meaning, as will the context in which you say these.

1 I really could have made more cake. – a comment by you to yourself as you worry that you might not have made enough cake.

2 I could really have made more cake. – A comment by you to yourself as you think that you have probably not made enough cake.

3 I could have, really, made more cake. – (i) A comment by you in contradiction of someone who has told you that the amount of cake that you have made is the maximum amount of cake that it is possible to produce. Really is emphasised. You need the commas as “really” is a parenthetical free modifier. This would be better as “Really, I could have made more cake.

4 I could have made more cake really. With really emphasised, this does not differ greatly from 3. With “really” spoken in an uncertain tone, this does not differ greatly from 1 or 2. With an em dash instead of a comma, “really” would be closer to 3 but would be less contradictory – it would indicate that you were willing to do it all again by way of demonstration.

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