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The difference between ‘He had only been there for a few minutes’ and ‘He had been there only for a few minutes.’ ?

The ‘only’ was put in different position.

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There is no significant difference in meaning, and both are correct.

He had only been there for a few minutes

emphasizes the shortness of the time more strongly than the other version.

By the way, "for" can be omitted (elided) in either case

He had only been there a few minutes

He had been there only a few minutes

The meaning is unchanged, and this is perhaps more likely from a native speaker, although the version with 'for' would be more likely in semi-formal or formal writing.

  • I see no difference in emphasis here. — Attaching only to the minutes, rather than to the verb, is sometimes better to avoid ambiguity, though no such ambiguity is possible in this sentence. – Anton Sherwood Sep 29 '19 at 23:12
  • @Anton It is a subtle point, and I might be wrong. Placing "only" near the start of the sentence, and attached to the main verb, seems to me to stress "only" a bit more. – David Siegel Sep 29 '19 at 23:14

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