Notice how the meaning of the following sentences changes as the word “only” is moved:
1. Only Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: No one else claimed it.)
2. Professor Wu only claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She didn’t prove it; she only claimed it.)
3. Professor Wu claimed only that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed nothing else.)
4. Professor Wu claimed that only Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that no one else wrote poetry.)
5. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates only wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates didn’t read poetry; he only wrote it.)
6. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote only poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates wrote nothing besides poetry.)
The first, third, fourth, and fifth of these are listed by Zachary Seech in his book Writing Philosophy Papers, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004), 51. Seech says that the meaning of sentence 5 is “She claimed that Socrates wrote nothing besides poetry.” But that’s the meaning of sentence 6, not of sentence 5. My list, therefore, is both more complete and more accurate than Seech’s. By the way, Seech’s book is very good. It is required reading in my forthcoming Seminar in Research Methods and Philosophical Writing.