Are you careful when you use only in a sentence? Most people aren’t – and hardly anybody notices. Today I’m going to try to make a case for positioning only carefully. It’s a small detail that will impress careful readers.
The rule is that you should place only right next to the word it modifies. Here’s a mini-lesson I’ve often used with my students. Notice how the meaning changes every time only is moved to a different position:
Only I kissed her.
I only kissed her.
I kissed only her.
All three sentences are correct, and they all mean something different. Start listening to how only is used in conversations, and make an effort to spot it when you’re reading. It’s worth the extra effort to use only correctly – even though it will only be noticed by a few perceptive readers.
Oops! I meant to write it this way: even though it will be noticed by only a few perceptive readers.