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I'm curious if there is any difference in nuance between these two sentences:

  1. 彼は少なくとも週に一度車を洗う。
  2. 彼は週に少なくとも一度車を洗う。

I'm aware that grammatically speaking both are 100% right, but this question is not targeted at this issue.

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my guts feeling is that for (1) it's "at least once in a week" while (2) is "in a week, at least once" .. like in English, the difference is subtle :) –  Lukman Jun 8 '11 at 17:45
    
@Lukman: my feeling too. Which makes (2) the more marked of the two. In professional terms, we would say that 週に is part of the topic, but は doesn't seem appropriate to me here for some reason, since intuitively it would make me think 週 is definite (i.e. "the week"), but that's not the case. I'd post it as an answer, but I'm just not sure about my interpretation yet. –  Boaz Yaniv Jun 8 '11 at 19:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your sentence 1 is ambiguous with respect to the scope of 少なくとも:

彼は[少なくとも週に一度]車を洗う
'He washes his car at least once a week.'

彼は少なくとも[週に一度車を洗う]
'He at least washes his car one a week. (He also changes the motor oil once a month.)'

The first meaning is the same one as your setence 2, but the second meaning cannot be expressed by sentence 2.

In general, the position of an adverb often gives different possibility for its scope.

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I don't detect any difference in meaning, but splitting frequency expressions (週に一度, 年に3回, etc) as you did in the second sentence sounds disjointed. As far as general adverbs go, technically you can put them just about anywhere, but most often you'll find them right in front of the verb they modify.

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I think you're right that adverbs generally tend to come immediately before their head. In the example case, 少なくとも modifies another adverb, and the question is whether the speaker wants it to modify 週に一度 or just 一度. –  dainichi Oct 18 '12 at 1:37

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