Insertion Words

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Insertion Words

Postby azule » Fri Jan 02, 2015 11:18 am UTC

Where is the correct place to add insertion words? Please excuse my non-linguo speak.

Example: "This is just the greatest thing!"
where "just" could also be between "this is". Does its meaning change due to placement?
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Re: Insertion Words

Postby Carlington » Fri Jan 02, 2015 11:42 am UTC

Tricky question. I assume you're talking about English in particular? My intuition says that "just" goes right before "the greatest thing", and anywhere else sounds wrong/wouldn't really be said by a native speaker. (I'm also assuming you're not a native English speaker, please correct if necessary).
To try and put some sort of actual rule to it:
"Thing" is the noun in the sentence, "greatest" is a superlative adjective and so it goes right before the noun, and "the" is a determiner so it comes right before the noun and any attached adjective. That makes the noun phrase, and it seems that "just" acts as an intensifier (adverb maybe?) which goes right before the noun phrase. I think this particular meaning can only happen when there's a superlative (-est type) adjective attached to the noun, though. Other frames seem to give different meanings. For example, "This is just the greatest thing" means the same as "This is the greatest thing", just with a little more emphasis. "This is just a greater thing" seems to have the opposite effect - it's sort of like saying "This is a greater thing, no big deal", and that sounds kind of odd when "great" is the adjective, but it's a little clearer with "This is just a bigger thing" and clearer still with "This is just a bigger apple". In fact, the same happens with just a plain adjective as well, which leads me to think that "just" in particular means "nothing but" unless it's right before a noun phrase with a superlative in it, in which case it takes on a new meaning as an intensifier.
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Re: Insertion Words

Postby azule » Fri Jan 02, 2015 1:24 pm UTC

Well said. I thought to maybe use the word "intensifier" but I thought that was the superlative.

I am a native speaker, though. lol. Not offended. Most of my issue probably stems from not thinking linearly and trying to insert words while I'm still talking.

I think "I would like to have a donut". While I'm getting there, I decide I would "love" it. Actually, I would "really love". So, hopefully it gets said at the right spot. If I miss the "really", maybe it can be said in a suitable spot, in this case at the end with a ", really".

Unfortunately, that's not the best example. Lemme see... How about:
[sometimes] glasses are [sometimes] uncomfortable, [sometimes].
where only one instance of [sometimes] is included. I can see that some instances are probably a clause. All?

(My question might actually be about correct placement of clauses. Dunno. :/ )
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Re: Insertion Words

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:43 am UTC

Sometimes in the first or third position modifies the statement - it's an adverb (obviously) acting on the whole clause. Inserted in between, it's modifying "uncomfortable" only. That sounds the most natural, but there's also a subtle shift in meaning - technically, although either reading is possible, it implies that all glasses are uncomfortable some of the time, while the other positions leave open the possibility that you simply mean that some glasses are uncomfortable ("sometimes the toast comes out burned" doesn't mean that a single resulting slice of toast is itself sometimes burned and sometimes not.)
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Re: Insertion Words

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:17 pm UTC

The grammar book that I teach from uses the term "focus adverbs" for words like "just", "even", "only", "simply", and "almost", whose meaning changes depending on where in the sentence they appear.

Typically these words modify the very next thing in the sentence:
Only I can read this language. = No other person can read it.
I can read only this language. = I can read no other language.

However, it's complicated by the fact that if the focus adverb is attached to the main verb, its meaning can actually apply to any of the following content words, with the difference usually indicated by pronunciation.
I can only read this language. = I can read it, but I can't write it or speak it or understand it when listening.
I can only read this language. = I can read no other language.

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Some other adverbs, such as "sometimes", don't really change the meaning in different positions, but there are still typically no more than three places they can go:

Occasionally, I eat dinner at home.
I occasionally eat dinner at home.
I eat dinner at home occasionally.
* I eat occasionally dinner at home. (The asterisk indicates that something is ungrammatical.)
? I eat dinner occasionally at home. (The question mark indicates that something might be ungrammatical.)

When frequency adverbs are negated, sometimes "not" comes before the adverb, sometimes it comes after, and sometimes the different position changes the meaning:

I don't ever eat at home.
* I ever don't eat at home.
I don't always eat at home.
? I always don't eat at home. (This sentence makes logical sense, but "always don't" would probably be better expressed as "never".)

* I don't sometimes eat at home.
I sometimes don't eat at home.

I don't often eat at home. (= Eating at home is not a frequent thing.)
I often don't eat at home. (= Eating away from home is a frequent thing.)
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