How to Use “Only” Correctly?

The modifier “only” should be carefully used. To speak or write clearly, “only“ must be placed before the word it affects.  According to the position of only, the same words may be made to express very different meanings. Check out below sentences.

1. Only Mike beat five. (It means nobody else beat five but Mike.)

  • Only Martha could solve the chess puzzle.
  • Only Sidney is able to unlock the computer.
  • Only Jill came to my birthday party last night.

2. Mike only beat five. (He did not do anything else (i.e. kill) but beat.)

  • He only checked his emails and left.
  • Thelma only said “hi” and went straight to her room.
  • We were only looking at the accessories.

3. Mike beat only five. (He beat no more than five persons.)

  • Sandy reads only magazines.
  • Mark played only badminton.
  • Please pay only in coins.

Meanwhile, only at the beginning of a sentence has the same meaning as aloneThis structure can be ambiguous so make sure to put emphasis or explain further what you meant. Consider below examples:

  • Only Clara approved the motion. (Stress the word ‘Clara’ as you say this to emphasize that she alone agreed with the motion.)
  • Only eleven came to her bridal shower. (A few more guests would have been better.

At times, only is improperly used for except or unless. Carefully look at below statements:

  • Incorrect: The trains will not stop only when the bell rings.
  • Correct: The trains will not stop except when the bell rings.
  • Incorrect: Knowledge will not attract money, only it is organized and intelligently directed.
  • Correct: Knowledge will not attract money, unless it is organized and intelligently directed.
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