Limiting modifiers impose restrictions on the words they modify. The most common limiting modifiers are:
Positioning of Limiting Modifiers
The word (or words) a limiting modifier governs is usually immediately to its right in a sentence. In each example below, the limiting modifier is shaded, and the word it governs is in bold.
Martin knows hardlyanybody.
He hardlyknows anybody.
OnlyMartin eats pears.
Martin eats onlypears.
POSITIONING OF THE WORD ONLY
In speech, you will often get away with misplacing a limiting modifier. However, in formal writing, you should spend a few seconds to think about where to position your limiting modifier. The most common mistakes happen with the word only.
Look at these examples:
OnlyJack eats ice-cream.
(Jill does not.)
Jack onlyeats ice-cream.
(Jack does not throw the ice-cream.)
Jack eats onlyice-cream.
(Jack does not eat strawberries.)
Most people would take the meaning of the second example to be the same as the third example (especially if spoken). However, for the meaning nothing but ice-cream, the second example is a mistake. So, technically speaking, we have to say these famous quotes are wrong:
Everyone is born with genius, but most people onlykeep it a few minutes. (Edgard Varese, 1883-1965)
(It should be only a few minutes.)
I don't give a damn for a man that can onlyspell a word one way. (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)