Source: p 123, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (2005), by Huddleston & Pullum

The basic division, then, is between words that modify nouns, and words that modify other categories (categories of words or of larger constituents). The noun-modifiers are adjectives, and the others are adverbs.1 [1.] By no means all adverbs can modify all of this wide range of head elements, but there is a significant amount of overlap.

Is 1 wrong? Why did 1 lack subject-auxiliary inversion? I thought that by no means requires it? This didn't help. Based on this definition, here's my guess of the meaning of the last sentence:

2. By no means can all adverbs modify all of this wide range of head elements ...

= 3. No means exist, by which all adverbs can modify all of this wide range of head elements ...

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    By no means in this case is not a clausal modifier; it qualifies only all (= "Only some adverbs, not by any means all of them") and must therefore remain juxtaposed to that word. May 12 '15 at 18:36
  • @StoneyB That deserves a tiny bit of elaboration in an answer box! :) May 12 '15 at 18:38
  • 1
    @Araucaria As you wish. May 12 '15 at 18:57
  • 1
    @Araucaria Thanks. I just finished it, but I'm just revisiting the harder parts.
    – NNOX Apps
    May 12 '15 at 22:47
  • @LawArea51Proposal-Commit I've finished it , erm, probably five times now - I'm still revising the harder parts too! :) May 12 '15 at 23:16

Profs. H & P express themselves, as usual, with admirable precision.

With inversion, the expression by no means would modify the entire clause All adverbs can modify all of this wide range of head elements, leaving it unclear in what respect the assertion was being denied. By forgoing inversion Profs. H & P make it clear that only the immediately following term all is qualified. You might paraphrase this as

Only some (if any—but by no means all) adverbs can modify all of this wide range of head elements.

  • +1 Helpful and accurate - a very unlikely outcome for this Q otherwise :) Thanks May 12 '15 at 23:19
  • In the OP's defense, there were a number of ways for the authors to write that sentence more clearly without sacrificing precision. It might have begun Not all adverbs.... Surely, "By no means all ... can modify all..." is an awkward construction that leaves the reader scratching his head if not gritting his teeth. Moreover, it would be clearer to have written every head element in this wide range or all of the head elements in this wide range instead of "all of this wide range of head elements". May 13 '15 at 14:31
  • @TRomano I never accused H&P of grace! :) But I don't find it a difficult construction, and I think the all . . . all is deliberate and stressed. Perhaps this is a matter of age; H&P write in an academic style that was common when I was in grad school forty years ago. May 13 '15 at 22:12
  • @StoneyB: I noted the precision of "with admirable precision" :) May 13 '15 at 23:17

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