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Example: I will buy fish only if I shop at the pier

Does the placement of the "only" make the sentence ambiguous so that multiple readings of this sentence is possible?

Which word is "only" modifying?

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    The sentence is poorly constructed at best. It's hard to say what the intended meaning is.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 22, 2020 at 21:39
  • If you worry that a reader will group the restriction as fish only, don't. That reading would be a distortion of the more logical buying fish solely at the pier and nowhere else. Nov 22, 2020 at 21:48
  • Strictly speaking it's ambiguous. It could mean that I buy fish and nothing else if I shop at the pier, or far more likely it means "I will buy fish at the pier and nowhere else.
    – BillJ
    Nov 23, 2020 at 18:44

2 Answers 2

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Does the placement of the "only" make the sentence ambiguous?

No, it is the lack of punctuation:

I will buy fish only, if I shop at the pier - I will buy nothing except fish if I shop at the pier.

I will buy fish, only if I shop at the pier - (there is an implied "but") I will buy fish from nowhere other than the pier

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It is modifying the phrase "buying fish". It is adding a condition to the act of making a purchase. I believe that is not ambiguous but conditional.

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