If Only Everyone Used “Only” Correctly!

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.

a man and a woman kiss


4 thoughts on “If Only Everyone Used “Only” Correctly!

  1. Elizabeth Fike

    I usually catch the mistake in the quiz question, easily. You got me onthis one. My eyes just skipped over the “an”.

  2. William Vietinghoff

    This is an EXTREME digression from the topic of the grammar lesson, and I apologize, but I felt obligated to say SOMETHING to show that I DO read the lessons. I thought about the pronunciation of the word “only”. As native Americans we grow up learning the different pronunciations of words without thinking about it. I feel sorry for people trying to learn English.
    Suppose a visitor from another country came up to you with this question: “Please tell me the correct way to pronounce ‘only’ .”
    I took Spanish in high school and was taught that “o” in Spanish is always pronounced like the “o” in the English word “cone”. So it is easy to pronounce Spanish words. “Don Ricardo” (Mr. Richard) would rhyme with “Bone Ree-car-dough”. But the word “on” in English is pronounced like “ahn.” We would pronounce the name “Don” like “Dahn”. But “only” is not pronounced “ahnly,”

    Which raises another question: why is “bone” pronounced differently from “done”?

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