Are those pesky little words confusing your readers?

Posted on 21/02/2012


Jumping to conclusions

Recently  I heard an ad on the radio. It started with ‘We only sell the best brands of vehicles’. Being the sceptical, persnickety editor that I am, I expected the ad to continue on to talk about their after-sales servicing and who knows what else.                    But, no, it seems that they sell. That’s it. It would seem that they didn’t mean ‘We sell only the best brands…’ as I had anticipated. I had to silently apologise to the copywriter – and cheer that the subtle difference that the placement of words like ‘only’ was recognised. Think about the differences in meaning in these sentences.

  • Only I ate the cakes. [Everyone else ate biscuits.]
  • I only ate the cakes. [I didn’t bake them.]
  • I ate only the cakes. [I could have eaten biscuits as well.]

Does it matter?

How clearly do you want your message to be broadcast? Do you want your readers to easily understand what you’re telling them?

I think it does: I always aim for clear, engaging and sharp writing, whether I’m writing or editing.

What do you think? Have you had to think twice about a message because of the placement of one of those pesky little words?

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