Proper use (placement) of the word 'both' in a sentence

What is the rule for placement of the word ‘both’ in a sentence? For example, do you say:

The movie disappointed in both its acting and its direction.


The movie disappointed both in its acting and its direction.

I admit it’s a small, maybe trivial, point, but I always have trouble deciding which to use.

(BTW, I did do a search for the answer to this pretty basic question, but the word ‘both’ is so common that the search results get hugely diluted with irrelevant hits. Thanks!)

Either placement is fine, although the second example is incorrect. It should be:

The movie disappointed both in its acting and in its direction.

The idea is that whatever clause is between “both…and” should match the form of the clause after “and”. The clause, however can be any form.

This is a matter of style more than one of correctness, and so you are unlikely to find a unversally accepted rule. In general, good style guidelines suggest placing a word like this closest to thing it describes to increase clarity. A similar issue exists with “only,” and in that case placement is more likely to change the intended meaning.

In the example you give, I would prefer the first. Suppose I use your second example like this:

Jack and Jill went to the theater. The movie disappointed both in its acting and its direction.

Does that mean that both Jack and Jill were disappointed?

Both are fine. What makes you think there’s a rule demanding one instead of the other?

Shouldn’t that be “it’s” ?

Not quite. See below.

This observation is correct. One illustration of why is the following:

Sure looks that way to me. As Heart of Dorkness pointed out, the first one has an error in not repeating the word “in.” That failure actually changes the meaning, not just the style.

Is that a whoosh? “Its” is correct as the possessive pronoun. “It’s” means “it is.”

No. Possessives of personal pronouns that end in “s” – his, hers, yours, ours, theirs, its – do not take an apostrophe.

Yes, or sometimes “it has,” e.g. “It’s been a dry year.”

Figures. Ask a question about one thing and make a mistake in doing so. May have the making of an eponymic law.

Much obliged to all.

Not a whoosh, I honestly thought the possesive of a personal pronoun ended with an 's. Thank you for fighting my ignorance.