Writing tip: Trap the wandering adverb

Writing tip: trap the wandering adverb.
Don't let the word only wander lonely as a cloud: glue it in the right place. If only wanders into the wrong position, confusion may result.

See how the meaning changes when only wanders around a sentence.

  • Only the new manual confused the nurse. (The old one didn't confuse her.)
  • The new manual only confused the nurse. (It didn't spoil her day.)
  • The new manual confused only the nurse. (It didn't confuse other medical staff.)
  • The new manual confused the only nurse. (There was only one nurse.)

Photo of cloud by Trey Ratcliffe.
Quick fix for wandering only
Nearly always, you can just delete the word only.
The sentence will still make sense. When in doubt, take it out!

Here's why adverbs go wandering.

When you talk, this rule doesn't matter: your voice makes the meaning perfectly clear. Unfortunately, when people read your writing, nobody can hear that emphasis in your voice.

The same problem occurs with some other adverbs too, for example, just, still and even.

Contented online course in Painless Grammar has dozens of similar tips to make your writing easy.
Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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