One modifier I see and hear used improperly quite often is only. A simple trick to remember how to use it is to place only closest to the word or phrase it modifies. True, you can shift only throughout a sentence, but by doing so, and not paying attention to where it lands, you may actually be saying something you didn’t intend. Consider the following sentences:
Only Ralph plays the guitar in our band.
Ralph only plays the guitar in our band.
Ralph plays only the guitar in our band.
Ralph plays the guitar only in our band.
In the first sentence, Ralph alone plays the guitar in the band. In the second, Ralph plays the guitar in the band rather than using it for some other activity. In the third, the guitar is the sole instrument Ralph plays. In the fourth, Ralph’s talent on the guitar is reserved for one band.
The most recent place I encountered the improper placement of only was in Omar Bradley’s autobiography, A Soldier’s Story. The sentence that prompted this post reads, “If only Monty would take a chance and attack without insisting upon an overwhelming preponderance in force, we might use those two remaining corps to reinforce our lower thrust into the Rhine.”
Monty was a rather arrogant fellow and a good tactician, however, I doubt even he would attack the German’s alone. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but I suspect what General Bradley meant was, “If Monty would only take a chance and attack without insisting upon an overwhelming preponderance in force, we might use those two remaining corps to reinforce our lower thrust into the Rhine.”
In either case, we won the war against evil in 1945. The war against the improper placement of the word only rages on.