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I read about using only in English. From my understanding, only is a modifier that it is placed next to a verb, a noun or a subject that need to be modified. I also learn that changing the place of only will change the meaning of the sentence. This helps me a lot but I am still confused about my sentence.

I have a function which can model more than two variables at a time. However, I used this function in a method where only two variables are allowed to be modelled at a time. I would like to say that in my sentence, i.e.,

In method A, function B only models two variables at a time.

or

In method A, function B models only two variables at a time.

Which one is correct? For me, the correct one is the first sentence, but I am still not sure.

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There can be a subtle difference between the two sentences—although they would not normally be distinguished from each other in common use.

In method A, function B only models two variables at a time.

This could be taken to mean that in method A, function B does nothing else aside from modelling two variables at a time.

In method A, function B models only two variables at a time.

This could be taken to mean that in method A, function B models two variables at a time; however, function B could also do other things aside from modelling those two variables.

  • IMO the real problem in choosing between these sentences without any context is that "modelling a variable" doesn't have any obvious meaning. Either it means something described earlier in the document, or "modelling" is the wrong word. It's hard to choose between two sentences both of which are meaningless! – alephzero Jan 13 at 12:37
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I think that in your particular context, both sentences will be understood correctly. However, I would use the second sentence, because "Function only models two variables at a time" can theoretically be understood as "This function only does that, and nothing more". What if the function can do something esle? In this case, the statement would be misleading.

Hence, I would use

In method A, function B models only two variables at a time.

Here, the adverb only relates only to the number of variables modeled simultaneously, and not to the whole range of things that the function does.

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