How the placement of ‘only’ alters a sentence’s meaning

As with many four-letter words, proper application of this modifier makes a heck of difference in conveying your intent, but getting it right can be darn difficult. Here’s how not to mess it up.

Ragan Insider Premium Content
Ragan Insider Content

Inaccurate placement of only abounds.

Those sentences with a misplaced only far outweigh those where only is in the right spot: closest to the word it modifies.

Why does the placement of only matter?

Only as an adjective or adverb means solely or exclusively, single or solitary, which is the case in most of the examples below.

Consider three examples showing that placement of only changes the meaning of each sentence. Then consider how the placement of only applies to these examples:

Only Danny sang at the party. (No one else sang.)

Danny only sang at the party. (He didn’t dance or play the piano.)

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.