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I am so excited by your question because I am eager to know what the moderators and other members say.

A few years ago, I read in a book that  there is a difference between "She slowly swan to shore" and "She swam slowly to shore."  But (darn it!) the author did not explain why.

I have been reading books and the Internet trying to find the answer, for there are varying opinions.

Last edited by TheParser
@TheParser posted:

I am so excited by your question because I am eager to know what the moderators and other members say.

A few years ago, I read in a book that  there is a difference between "She slowly swan to shore" and "She swam slowly to shore."  But (darn it!) the author did not explain why.

I have been reading books and the Internet trying to find the answer, for there are varying opinions.

"She swam slowly to the shore"..Here the adverb is important to the meaning of the verb.

"She slowly swam to the shore"..Here the adverb is not the main focus of the message. In other words, the first example sheds the spotlight on the adverb more than the verb. The second example doesn't give the adverb the same focus as it has in the first example...

Thank you, John, for your very helpful comments.

I do not know why, but I am very much interested in this topic.

Look at this example from a scholarly book that I found on the Web:

1. "They slowly tested all the lightbulbs."

a. The entire operation took a long time even though each individual testing may have been quick.



2. "They tested all the bulbs slowly."

a. The meaning is ambiguous but the preferred interpretation is that each bulb testing was slow.

Source: Ernst in his Syntax of Adjunct (2001).

@TheParser posted:

A few years ago, I read in a book that  there is a difference between "She slowly swam to shore" and "She swam slowly to shore."  But (darn it!) the author did not explain why.

That's very interesting, TheParser. Although I should hesitate to attempt to explain why, I do agree that there is a difference in meaning between "She slowly swam to shore" and "She swam slowly to shore."

In my opinion, the difference is that "She slowly swam to shore" indicates that the strokes she made in swimming were made slowly, regardless of how quickly or slowly she made it to shore.

In contrast, "She swam slowly to shore" indicates that her progress toward the shore was slow regardless of the speed with which she made her swimming strokes. Perhaps she was swimming with all her might against the current.

Were I to attempt to explain that difference, assuming it exists, I should say that, in "She slowly swam to shore," the adverb modifies the verb phrase; but,  in "She swam slowly to shore," the adverb modifies the prepositional phrase.

Before I attempt tree diagrams, I shall have to inspect what Ernst says in The Syntax of Adjuncts. I have had the book in my library for some time but have not yet read it. Using Reed-Kellogg representation, I see this as the difference:

She slowly swam to shore.

She slowly swam to shore

She swam slowly to shore.

She swam slowly to shore

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Last edited by David, Moderator

[1] She slowly swam to shore.

[2] She swam slowly to shore.

I'd say that [1] entails [2]. If there is a semantic difference, it's difficult to quantify.

Preposition phrases can be modified by certain adverb phrases but not, as far as I'm aware, by ones like "slowly". If I'm right, "slowly to shore" is not a constituent, and hence "slowly" in [2] is best regarded as a modifier in clause structure, just as it is in [1].

Last edited by billj
@billj posted:

[1] She slowly swam to shore.

[2] She swam slowly to shore.

I'd say that [1] entails [2]. If there is a semantic difference, it's difficult to quantify.

Preposition phrases can be modified by certain adverb phrases but not, as far as I'm aware, by ones like "slowly". If I'm right, "slowly to shore" is not a constituent, and hence "slowly" in [2] is best regarded as a modifier in clause structure, just as it is in [1].

I will admit that my opinion about the possibility of a semantic difference between [1] and [2] (I do not claim that my special reading of [2] is necessary, only that it is possible), as well as my idea that "slowly" can modify a PP like "to shore," at least when such a PP denotes a directional path, is conjectural, and that I find it difficult to demonstrate that "slowly to shore" can be a constituent; but I am not prepared just yet to give up the cause. Consider these variations:

[3] She swam slowly in to shore.
[4] ? She briskly swam, slowly to shore.
[5] ? Slowly to shore she briskly swam.

Sentence [3] was inspired by Betty Azar's recent threads on "in to" versus "into"; my separation of "in" and "to" there is, of course, not an accident. That sentence, being extremely natural, is unquestionably grammatical. The only question is what "slowly" modifies! Does it modify "in"? If so, what is "in"? Regarding [4] and [5], I am not sure whether they are fully grammatical; hence the question marks. It seems possible that [5] demonstrates constituency.

Last edited by David, Moderator


[4] ? She briskly swam, slowly to shore.
[5] ? Slowly to shore she briskly swam.

Yes, trickier than most.

I'm inclined to say that in [4] the whole of the sequence "slowly to shore" is a supplement consisting of two elements: the adjunct "slowly" and the PP "to shore".

In [5] I'd take "slowly to shore" as two distinct preposed elements, the adjunct "slowly" and the PP "to shore", the latter a complement of "swam".

Last edited by billj

I think (a) "She walked towards the spider slowly." is not grammatical."towards the spider" is an adverbial of place, "slowly" is an adverb of manner. According to the royal order of adverbs, an adverb of manner should come before or precede an adverb of place.

However, this order is not a law. From the Free Dictionary,

"While the order of adverbs is useful to keep in mind, it is a guide, rather than a law."

https://www.thefreedictionary....Order-of-Adverbs.htm

Also, from the link below:

"If there is a preposition before the object, (e.g., towards, to) an adverb can be placed before the preposition or after the object."

https://ifioque.com/parts-of-s...verbs/manner-adverbs

From When You  Catch an Adjective, Kill  It  (2007) by Ben Yagoda.

Page 68. "There is one more thing to say about adverbs. I have saved it for last so you can skip it. I give you a chance to skip it because it can drive you crazy (my emphasis)."

Page 69. "The topic is location of adverbs in sentences. ... Adverbs can come before or after verbs depending on which word is meant to be emphasized (my emphasis). ... He swam slowly means something slightly different from He slowly swam."

@TheParser posted:

From When You  Catch an Adjective, Kill  It  (2007) by Ben Yagoda.

Page 68. "There is one more thing to say about adverbs. I have saved it for last so you can skip it. I give you a chance to skip it because it can drive you crazy (my emphasis)."

Page 69. "The topic is location of adverbs in sentences. ... Adverbs can come before or after verbs depending on which word is meant to be emphasized (my emphasis). ... He swam slowly means something slightly different from He slowly swam."

Thanks for sharing this passage with us, TheParser. It's interesting that Ben Yagoda perceives an unspecified difference in meaning there, stemming from a difference in emphasis.

I've been thinking about this topic a bit more and would like to propose that, in some cases, there really can be a difference in meaning depending on where the adverb is placed—not simply a difference in emphasis.

In formal syntax, there are at least two locations where an adverb between subject and verb can be situated. It could, of course, be adjoined to the verb phrase. However, it could also be adjoined at T' (the T-bar level of the TP).

Semantically, the VP is associated with the action, whereas the TP is associated with the situation as a whole. We may thus predict a possible difference in meaning when an adverb can apply either to the action or to the situation.

Consider a sentence like this:

i)He quickly made coffee.

This could mean that he hurriedly performed the set of actions associated with his making coffee:

He quickly made coffee_VP

Or it could mean that he made coffee at a normal pace, but that the situation as a whole transpired (or was initiated) quickly, perhaps because he was in a hurry:

He quickly made coffee_T'

I think that the former interpretation (that quickly applies to the set of coffee-making actions rather than to the situation as a whole) is more likely when quickly comes at the end:

ii) He made coffee quickly.

He made coffee quickly_VP

When quickly comes between the subject and the verb, however, as in He quickly made coffee, the interpretation can go either way. But the situational interpretation is arguably more natural in that position.

That middle position is the more natural place for an adverb that applies situationally can, I think, be demonstrated by considering how awkward the end position is in cases where the action meaning is less likely or implausible.

iii) He quickly got a carwash.
iv) ?? He got a carwash quickly.

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Last edited by David, Moderator

I don't see how an extended discussion like this can be of any help to the OP (original questioner), who by now must be totally confused. I imagine they wanted a relatively simple straightforward answer, not a lengthy debate with syntax trees thrown in for good (?) measure.

The more salient interpretation of the kind of examples under discussion is that the pairs are semantically the same, so why confuse the OP with a lengthy discussion about what amounts to virtually indiscernible differences, if there are any at all.

As for syntax trees, they can be helpful, though mainly in the classroom. We don't even know if the OP understands such diagrams, so they may be superfluous or even unhelpful. In any case, labeling subject pronouns as DPs rather than the far more conventional NPs is not helpful and likely to confuse the OP even more.

Last edited by billj
@billj posted:

I don't see how an extended discussion like this can be of any help to the OP (original questioner), who by now must be totally confused. I imagine they wanted a relatively simple straightforward answer, not a lengthy debate with syntax trees thrown in for good (?) measure.

The more salient interpretation of the kind of examples under discussion is that the pairs are semantically the same, so why confuse the OP with a lengthy discussion about what amounts to virtually indiscernible differences, if there are any at all.

Did you think that I was addressing the OP, Billj? I was addressing TheParser, you, and/or any member of the Grammar Exchange who may be capable of following my post. I don't care whether Ahmed Imam Attia can follow my post.

If that shocks you, consider that we are unpaid for our work here. That means that we are not the servants of any member. If Pearson wishes me to be a servant, they can pay me, as they paid Rachel, my predecessor.

One of the nice things about the Grammar Exchange is that it is for exchanges about grammar. Boring questions get boring answers. Interesting questions get interesting answers. Awesome questions lead to full-blown inquiries like this.

What you describe as "virtually indiscernible differences" may not be so indiscernible in some cases, namely, those cases in which an adverb may apply to the action or to the situation.

Suppose you needed to leave for the airport and wanted to make yourself a pot of coffee beforehand. If you hurried to do so, but did not hurry the actual coffee-making motions, which sentence would you use?

I quickly made some coffee.
I made some coffee quickly.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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