1. He swam slowly to the island.

  2. He slowly swam to the island.

Some experts say that there is a “slight difference” in meaning.

Would you please tell me that difference?

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    Who are these experts, who say something but then don't explain it? They are clearly not experts in pedagogy. – Peter Shor Sep 22 '12 at 14:10
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    @PeterShor And neither have you. :) There's indeed a world of difference. – Kris Sep 22 '12 at 14:32
  • Wait a while, give enough time for people to see and answer your question, before accepting any answer. (As it seems you are somewhat new here.) – Kris Sep 23 '12 at 5:53
  • This question can be improved by adding the results of any attempts at research made before posing the question here. That is basic site etiquette. – MetaEd Sep 25 '12 at 19:06

Some might say that (1) emphasises the nature of the swimming and that (2) emphasises the insular destination. I'm not sure I would.

  • I agree with this answer, word to word. – RiMMER Sep 22 '12 at 14:11

No. There is no difference in meaning. Manner adverbs like slowly can be slotted into a number of niches, depending, I suspect, more on how the speaker wants the sentence to sound, in terms of rhythm and intonation, than anything else.

However, this is not to say that those with their own view of proper language use might not believe that there is some such meaning difference, and that they understand what it is. And, as a public service, they will often tell you about this.

Since such individual views of proper language are all imaginary, they are individually quite different and often contradictory; this means that all that purposeful usage cancels out in the long run.

But, in the short run, anyone who gets used to the way some such person talks gets accustomed to such usages, and often comes to believe that they're universal. If enough people do so, they might in fact become universal. But there can be a lot of competition and pushback from people who don't talk that way. This is the ordinary way language changes.

  • This answer is correct if there is only one verb and one adverb. If there are any other [ad]verb[ial]s then the relative placements can affect the meaning. – AmI Oct 21 '17 at 19:45

These adverb positions aren't always completely interchangeable.

If you're explaining the reason for the slowness of his swimming, the adverb must come last, especially in writing. In the second example below, when speaking, you might be able to convey this fact by emphasizing slowly (but you probably wouldn't actually do this unless "to the island" were replaced by a much longer phrase). The third is wrong if you're trying to say he was swimming slowly because his leg was injured.

Because his leg was injured, he swam to the island slowly.
?Because his leg was injured, he swam slowly to the island.
*Because his leg was injured, he slowly swam to the island.

  • Why is the third example clearly wrong? Does the opening sentence (i.e. the reason for his swimming slowly) create such a dramatic change in the general validity of the statement? Would it be different if the reason were expressed after the main clause? – Paola Sep 22 '12 at 17:27
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    The third example is indeed grammatical (as somebody else has pointed out), but it cannot mean that that he was slow because his leg was injured; it means that he swam to the island because his leg was injured. If you put because his leg was injured after the main clause, you still cannot say slowly swam to mean that he was slow because of the injury. I wish I could tell you why it works this way; this is just my intuition as a native English speaker. – Peter Shor Sep 22 '12 at 17:32
  • In slav languages the main info, that you want to say, is moved to the end. Exactly as you are describing here. I was taught that in English the article 'a/empty' works the same way. Do you mean that the word order in English sometimes works the same way, too? The main subphrase is in the end of the phrase? Are there some sources on that theme? – Gangnus Jun 21 '17 at 15:08
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    @Gangnus: the end of sentences in English is indeed a place to put important information. One place this is discussed is in the excellent article The Science of Scientific Writing. Not knowing Russian, I don't know if it works exactly the same way as in Russian. – Peter Shor Jun 21 '17 at 18:10
  • I am very grateful for the info. But still I do not feel the difference between start and middle placements. Could you look here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/394949/… – Gangnus Jun 22 '17 at 12:54

When an adverb has a dual existance as a pragmatic marker (some would say a sentence adverb / adverbial), care has to be taken:

Clearly, he saw what was happening in the room. (pragmatic [modal] marker)

He clearly saw what was happening in the room. (ambiguous)

He saw clearly what was happening in the room. (manner [or is it degree?] adverb)

In Peter's examples, the third example (Because his leg was injured, he slowly swam to the island.) is grammatical with Because his leg was injured the reason for his swimming not his slowness.

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    Thank you, everyone, for your great answers. I am very happy to discover this grammar helpline. Obviously, it has some very intellectual heavyweights. – james Sep 22 '12 at 18:50
  • One assumes that the modifier intellectual is being used in a domain rather than a free role here. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 22 '12 at 22:16
  • I have no idea what you mean by "domain" and "free." I am just an ordinary person whose "knowledge" is limited to high school grammar. I still draw Reed-Kellogg diagrams. – james Sep 23 '12 at 9:17
  • Sorry, James. I was merely finding the rather uncomplimentary alternative reading your compliment allows humorous. My humour is limited to low school humour. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 '12 at 18:40
  • @EdwinAshworth For my edification, free role means “heavyweights who happen to be intellectuals” whereas domain role means “people who are heavyweights and, in this respect, are heavyweights”, right? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 17 '14 at 11:36

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