I wrote the following statement in another StackExchange:

"I think this paper exactly addresses your question"

Is it better to say:

"I think this paper addresses exactly your question"


I think the first one is good, and they could be equivalent. Is it true?

  • 1
    I think this question wouldn't look out of place in ELU. Then again, it would probably be a duplicate there. This and this. – Mr Lister May 21 '16 at 11:29
  • 2
    They mean almost the same thing here, but with other sentences they don't: "this paper exactly addresses one of your questions" versus "this paper addresses exactly one of your questions". – Peter Shor May 21 '16 at 12:24
  • 1
    @MrLister I think is not a duplicate, the questions you referred are both issues about "question" and not about assertion. As pointed out by PeterShor, such statements could have several means depending on position of adverb. – Gabrer May 21 '16 at 12:29
  • @Gabrer OK, OK, so this question would have been a duplicate if you would have had "I think this paper addresses your question exactly" as the second example. – Mr Lister May 21 '16 at 14:14

In English clauses we do not place adverbial expressions modifying either the entire clause or the verb which heads it between the verb and its objects:

  • (a) okThis paper exactly addresses your question, and
  • (b) okThis paper addresses your question exactly, but
  • (c) This paper addresses exactly your question. ( marks an utterance as unacceptable)

There are, however, situations where an adverbial can occupy this position.

  1. The adverbial may modify an element in a following Object. Your example, (c), is acceptable if exactly is understood to modify your question rather than addresses

    This paper addresses [exactly your question].

    —that is, the question which the paper addresses is exactly the one you are asking.

  2. The adverbial may be marked as 'supplemental', something added parenthetically to the clause as an afterthought. Supplementation is marked in writing by bracketing it with parentheses, commas or dashes, which represent distinct lengthening ('pausing') and raised or lowered intonation in speech:

    okThis question addresses, exactly, your question.

  • We sometimes place between the verb and the object an adverbial phrase which has the property that it is much shorter than the direct object, because if we placed it after the direct object it would be too far away from the verb. – Peter Shor May 21 '16 at 17:10
  • @PeterShor I've seen this, and it's "correct", but I find it really awkward -- it is usually more graceful to put the adverbial before the verb, as in OP's first example. – StoneyB on hiatus May 21 '16 at 17:39
  • I also find it rather awkward, but in the example in my comment, I think the other possible positions are even more awkward. – Peter Shor May 21 '16 at 17:48
  • Interestingly, I believe the rule about not putting adverbial expressions between the verb and the direct object developed over the last century – books written in the 19th and early 20th century often have adverbial expressions there when I don't see any good reason to put them there. Some weak Ngram evidence – Peter Shor May 21 '16 at 17:48

In the first sentence, exactly modifies the verb addresses, and in the second sentence, exactly modifies your question. These mean nearly exactly the same thing.

But consider:

this paper exactly addresses one of your questions,

this paper addresses exactly one of your questions.

In the first one, exactly modifies addresses, essentially meaning that the paper contains an analysis of one of your questions, without having to do extra work to fit the question to the paper. But it might say something about some of your other questions.

In the second one, exactly modifies one, so the paper doesn't address two of your questions, or none of your questions.

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