only

only
The position of only is one of the major unresolved topics of discussion in English usage. The upshot is that logical position, i.e. association with the word to which only most closely refers, is not always consistent with naturalness, which generally favours a position between the subject and the verb. Fowler (1926), in a long article on the subject, made a case for allowing ‘illogical’ positioning in a sentence such as He only died a week ago, which is a great deal more natural and stylistically satisfactory than He died only a week ago. Equally acceptable are the following examples of actual usage:

• I was…made to attend a Catholic businessmans luncheon (where I only got wine by roaring for it) —Evelyn Waugh, 1958

• Those days, you only applied to one college —New Yorker, 1986

• He says he only took the job because the neon sign always cheered him up —Julian Barnes, 1991

• I only wanted to work with vocalists —BBC Popular Music Reviews, 2004 [OEC].

In written English, the logical position of only should be respected when serious (rather than notional or theoretical) ambiguity would otherwise result, especially in contexts such as legal language in which precision is more important than a pleasing style:

• The public interest is properly served only where companies pursue the traditional goal of profit maximisation —J. E. Parkinson, 1993.

In general usage, the most natural position of only is where it always has been, between the subject and its verb, and invariable insistence on logical position sacrifices naturalness to pedantry.

Modern English usage. 2014.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • only — [ōn′lē] adj. [ME < OE anlic < an,ONE + lic, LY1] 1. alone of its or their kind; by itself or by themselves; sole 2. having no siblings [an only child] 3. alone in its or their superiority; best; finest adv …   English World dictionary

  • Only — On ly, adv. [See {Only}, a.] 1. In one manner or degree; for one purpose alone; simply; merely; barely. [1913 Webster] And to be loved himself, needs only to be known. Dryden. [1913 Webster] 2. So and no otherwise; no other than; exclusively;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • Only — On ly, a. [OE. only, anly, onlich, AS. [=a]nlic, i.e., onelike. See {One}, {and Like}, a.] 1. One alone; single; as, the only man present; his only occupation. [1913 Webster] 2. Alone in its class; by itself; not associated with others of the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • only — adj & adv Only, alone are often used interchangeably (though alone is not found in the attributive position), but seldom without a slight change in meaning or emphasis. Only is especially appropriate when restriction to what is specified or… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • only — ► ADVERB 1) and no one or nothing more besides. 2) no longer ago than. 3) not until. 4) with the negative or unfortunate result that. ► ADJECTIVE 1) alone of its or their kind; single or solitary. 2) alone deserving consideration …   English terms dictionary

  • only — O.E. ænlic, anlic only, unique, solitary, lit. one like, from an one (see ONE (Cf. one)) + lic ly (see LY (Cf. ly) (1)). Distinction of only and alone (now usually in reference to emotional states) is unusual; in many languages the same …   Etymology dictionary

  • Only 4 DJ — Only For DJs Only For DJ’s est un magazine culturel crée en Décembre 1995 dédié aux musiques électroniques et aux événements liés aux acteurs de l’industrie de la musique électronique et de la nuit. Les lecteurs se situent dans la tranche d âge… …   Wikipédia en Français

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