Is there any difference between:

1a. Ben has been utterly concentrated only on his work for several months.


1b. Ben has utterly been concentrated only on his work for several months.

or between:

2a. Tom has answered literally all the questions correctly.


2b. Tom has literally answered all the questions correctly.

The first sentence of each pair has been marked as incorrect on my English test. As far as I am concerned, the only difference is where you put the emphasis, or is there any kind of grammatical rule that I am not aware of?

  • Did your teacher explain why? As far as I can see neither of the first pair is very idiomatic and in the second pair the first is better than the second.
    – mdewey
    Dec 13, 2020 at 11:38
  • They didn't, but I'm gonna ask! Thanks
    – elizaveta
    Dec 13, 2020 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


In 1. your second example is wrong.
Utterly is in an unnatural position. Also, we would not say that someone has been concentrated. It's not idiomatic. Someone has concentrated on his work.
Apart from this, while utterly is possible, it doesn't fit naturally in front of concentrated. If you had to use a modifier here, totally is more natural and you would need to omit only.

So, your first sentence should read either:

Ben has concentrated only on his work for several months.
Ben has concentrated totally on his work for several months.

Your second examples are also problematic.

To begin with, literally doesn't fit in this context. Literally is used when someone means that his/her words are exactly true rather than being metaphorical, as in: They were frozen stiff when they were found. Literally, this would apply to bodies and not just to people who were cold.

Moreover, to answer literally means to answer in a literal manner, which is not what you intend.

To literally answer all the questions is trying to emphasise Tom's accomplishments.

So: >Tom has literally answered all the questions correctly is possible although literally serves little purpose here unless you are implying that it was a great accomplishment.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .