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Do adverbs necessarily modify the first verb after it?

My question is the same as another user's because I feel like I didn't understand. How can I know which verb/adjective is being modified?

ex: 早く食べて走りたい。

And in this sentence does the adverb modify both? I saw a comment saying that between the adverb and the verb being modified there can be several things, but even the form て?

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Yes, in this case, the adverb 早く modifies 食べて走る as a whole. This person wants to start running as soon as possible, and that means he wants to make the entire sequence ("eat and run") quick.

That is not to say all patterns that look like adverb + verb1-て + verb2 work the same way. In the following examples, the adverb modifies only the first verb:

  • 丁寧に歯を磨いて寝る
    to brush the teeth carefully before going to bed
  • たくさんチーズをかけて食べる
    sprinkle lots of cheese and eat it
    (not "eat a lot")

In general, to correctly interpret a "technically-ambiguous" sentence like this, knowing the grammar rules is not enough. Interpretation based on the context and common sense is necessary. Machine translation was far from useful in the past because, while grammar could be programmed, common sense could not. As a human, you will be able to interpret such sentences once you get a little more accustomed to Japanese.

See also: Are Japanese modifiers "greedy", "anti-greedy", or do they mean whatever people choose them to mean?

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