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It only seemed that way as India took lead to Australia.

It seemed only that way as India took lead to Australia.

Both mean the same and both are correct?

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    It would help if you told us what you think your sentence means. First, X took lead to Y doesn't sound like idiomatic English to me – not unless we are talking about the element (Pb). Second, I assume this could be a football or cricket match or something, but I suppose it could be talking about exports or something else. Generally speaking, when asking a question on the Stack Exchange, it's better to err on the side of providing too much information rather than not enough.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 17:00

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Side note: I'm not sure what the intended meaning of the sentence is. Perhaps you meant to say, "It only seemed that way as India took the lead from Australia", i.e. Australia had the lead but now India has the lead? Or "India took the lead over Australia"? It sounds like you're talking about a sports competition, but I'm not sure. And without context, we don't know which "way" you're talking about.

But to the point: Sure, moving a word in a sentence can change the meaning. If you move an adjective or an adverb, you can change what word it is modifying.

To take a simple example, "The tall salesman gave the widget to his customer." If I change that to, "The salesman gave the widget to his tall customer", then I'm changing which person is tall, from "the salesman" to "the customer".

In this case, you may be changing what it is that is "only", from the "seeming" to the "way".

That is, the first sentence uses "only" to emphasize that we are talking about "seeming" and not about reality. In this case, it's an intensifier.

The second sentence is potentially ambiguous. "Only" may be modifying "seemed", just as in the first sentence. Or it may be modifying "way", that is, it may be saying that it seemed that it was this way and no other way, as opposed to being this way but possibly other ways at the same time. "Only this way" versus "this way among many ways". Without knowing what sort of "way" we're talking about, I can't say if this makes sense or not.

To take a slightly different example:

"It only seemed like Alice was wearing blue pants." Alice was not wearing blue pants, but some trick of the light or whatever made them look blue. (Or maybe she was wearing something that was not pants -- a dress or whatever.)

"It seemed like only Alice was wearing blue pants." It appeared that Alice was wearing blue pants, but no one else present was wearing blue pants.

"It seemed like Alice was only wearing blue pants", It appeared that Alice was wearing blue pants and nothing else -- no shirt, presumably.

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  • I really like your example about Alice and the blue pants. However, in the O.P.'s sentence, I don't think the meaning changes too much, because I think only modifies seemed in both cases. (Sometimes adverbs modify the word they come after, not before.) Put another way: It would be incorrect to assume an adverb only modifies the word it precedes (or, It would be incorrect to assume an adverb modifies only the word it precedes). I could be wrong, but I think in both cases only modifies modifies.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 18:23
  • @J.R. Yes. That's what I meant when I said it was "potentially ambiguous": An adverb can come before or after the verb, and "only" can be either an adverb, like "He only sees the book", or an adjective, "He sees the only book." I was trying to say that in that sentence, it could be "only seemed", or it could be "only that way".
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 20:22

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