Clarity – Word Order Matters
We have said many times that one of the main purposes of grammar is clarity. If your meaning is not clear, then your message is lost. To this end, we look at the placing of one word and how it can change meaning or simply confuse.
Word order matters!
Consider the following – taken from a public health website that exists for booking appointments for COVID vaccines:
We will only be booking second dose appointments at clinics during these three weeks.
Is that clear to you? It wasn’t for this reader. Did it mean there is only one three-week period when one could book a second vaccine dose appointment (the opportunity would not arise again)? Or, did it mean that – for that three-week period – first dose appointments could not be booked, just second dose appointments?
Now try changing the placement of only:
We will be booking only second dose appointments at clinics during these three weeks.
That’s better! Now we understand that – for that three-week period – first dose appointments could not be booked, just second dose appointments.
The position of that word only is quite a game changer; be careful – see below for another example, this time from a notice on a restaurant window:
Takeout only Monday and Tuesday
Clear? Not really! What I think they mean is that on Mondays and Tuesdays they are only offering takeout, no in-house dining? But it also suggests that you can only get takeout on Mondays or Tuesdays – it’s not available the rest of the week. Ambiguous – and you really don’t want ambiguity in these situations.
An easy fix:
Only takeout available Monday and Tuesday
Now we have clarity – and that’s what it’s all about.