Hello, all

I have met structures like:
a) They slowly began to descend.
b) They began to slowly descend.

And they made me wondering about the reason behind the position of the adverb. Is it a difference between Am.E and Br.E, a difference in the meaning or a mere preference of the writer?

Thanks in advance

To me, there's technically a distinction: in (a), "slowly" qualifies "began", while in (b) it qualifies "descend". In practice, though, if you "slowly begin" then it normally implies that you're doing the thing slowly, and here there's very little discernible difference in meaning between the two sentences.

The distinction is more obvious in, for example:

"They eventually agreed to ban the use of nuclear weapons."

"They agreed to eventually ban the use of nuclear weapons."

Some people might quibble about the splitting of infinitives here, but I'm personally not too fussed by it (though, as it happens, I do stylistically prefer (a) to (b)).

I'm BrE. I'm not aware of any differences here between BrE and AmE.
Mr Wordy in (a), "slowly" qualifies "began",
I know it's irrelevant, but I could never figure this one. I suppose one might begin tentatively, by renaiging and re-beginning, but it seems like slowly beginningdoesn't compute. Emotion: big smile
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AvangiI know it's irrelevant, but I could never figure this one. I suppose one might begin tentatively, by renaiging and re-beginning, but it seems like slowly beginning doesn't compute

I think it is relevant. In "slowly began to descend", I think the brain struggles to see how to apply "slowly" to "began" (which is what the grammar indicates), and so assumes that it must be describing the rate of descent. Another example I thought of:

"I slowly began to walk."

"I began to slowly walk."

Admittedly, the second sentence doesn't seem terribly natural, but, ignoring that, I do detect a potential difference here. The first sentence could be describing someone who had, say, had an accident or illness and was getting back on their feet, rather than specifically stating that they were walking slowly (even though we might assume that at first they did walk slowly).
Well, I have no trouble imagining a slow beginning. [A]

I do get what you mean though, Avangi. Over the years I've had many a student ask me how/why it is even possible to say something such as "it is beginning to rain" (and the word "slow" isn't even in that).
Thanks for humoring me, guys. I know we need a word for gradually getting into a routine. Surely "accelerating" is too technical.
I wonder what GG thinks about it, as a trained engineer? It's the discipline of Newtonian physics that makes "slow beginning" hard to swallow. (F = M A)

But let's face it, slow beginnings are very popular.
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It's fun to read this thread. Thank you, Mr. Wordy for the clear answer to my question; Avagni for asking questions that I should have asked; and Mr. Wordy and Amy for the further feedback )

It looks like there are two meanings of the verb "to begin". One is simply an indication of whether something has begun or not, in which case it is a momentary action. The other refers to the "transient process", when something has begun but has not acquired a steady pace yet.

Well said, Ant.Emotion: smile