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What is the difference between the meanings of the two sentences given below?

  1. He plays only as an average player.

  2. He only plays as an average player.

I think the second sentence emphasizes more on the fact that he plays as an average player i.e the second sentence is concentrates more on his playing style by comparing it to being average.

This question was asked to me during a verbal test. The question was:

Fill in the blanks:

He _____ as an average player.(only plays, plays only)

marked as duplicate by tchrist, Glorfindel, M.A.R., StoneyB, JMB Sep 27 '15 at 21:35

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To me, both options are okay.

However the meaning of the sentence will change because that's the beauty of the word only.

I'm pasting a slide straight from one of my presentations.

Only the new manual confused the PA - The old one didn't confuse her.
The new manual only confused the PA - It didn't spoil her day.
The new manual confused only the PA - It didn't confuse other staff.
The new manual confused the only PA - There was only one PA.

If you observe, the word only affects the word immediately next to it and changes the meaning of the sentence accordingly [Another such words I know are just and even].

Let's take play as some sport --say tennis. Having said this,

He plays only as an average player - Whenever he plays (tennis), he plays as an average player
He only plays (tennis) as an average player - But he swims like a winner.

  • We can also say- He plays only (tennis) as an average player, but he swims like a winner. But I'm sure after removing tennis the statement becomes more general and so the second one. It seems to me that the first statement explicitly says that whenever he plays, he plays as an average player whereas the second statement implicitly suggests that he might be good at something. Am I correct? – Sanket Verma Jul 7 '14 at 7:37
  • I had to name that play to make my point clear. The sentences He plays... on its own is confusing. What does he play after all? Also, take swim as an act as play in that sentence and not a sport. That makes the point clearer. – Maulik V Jul 7 '14 at 8:34
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    Only doesn't always focus the word immediately following it. You're right that "The new manual only confused the PA" could mean all it did was confuse, but it's ambiguous―it could also mean "It didn't confuse other staff". In speech, we could distinguish these by stressing either confused or PA, but it's ambiguous in writing. – snailcar Jul 8 '14 at 18:47

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