on·ly | \ ˈōn-lē \

Definition of only 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1 : unquestionably the best : peerless is convinced that his team is the only one

2a : alone in a class or category : sole the only one left the only known species She's the only person you can really trust.

b : having no brother or sister an only child

3 : few one of the only areas not yet explored That was one of the only times I saw him cry.



Definition of only (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different : merely has only lost one election —George Orwell

b : solely, exclusively known only to him

2 : at the very least it was only too true

3a : in the final outcome will only make you sick

b : with nevertheless the final result won the battles, only to lose the war

4a : as recently as : not before only last week only in the last year did she get recognition

b : in the immediate past only just talked to her

Definition of only (Entry 3 of 3)

1a : with the restriction that : but you may go, only come back early

b : and yet : however they look very nice, only we can't use them

2 : were it not that : except I'd introduce you to her, only you'd win her —Jack London

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Synonyms & Antonyms for only

Synonyms: Adjective

incomparable, inimitable, matchless, nonpareil, peerless, unequaled (or unequalled), unexampled, unmatched, unparalleled, unrivaled (or unrivalled), unsurpassable, unsurpassed

Synonyms: Adverb

freshly, just, late, lately, new, newly, now, recently

Synonyms: Conjunction

but, except (also excepting), saving, yet

Antonyms: Adverb


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Placement of only in a Sentence: Usage Guide


The placement of only in a sentence has been a source of studious commentary since the 18th century, most of it intended to prove by force of argument that prevailing standard usage is wrong. After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.

Examples of only in a Sentence


the only way to really appreciate the beauty of the forest is to walk through it that is the only possible right answer


She had been there only twice in her life. There are only two more weeks until summer vacation. It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. Do you really have to leave? It's only eight o'clock. He was only a baby when his father died. Leave her alone. She's only a kid. The building is only about 10 years old. It was quiet in the room, but only for a moment. She is only partly to blame. The club is for women only.


I'd love to sing along, only I don't know the words. They did have a radio, only it was broken. We wanted to buy that painting, only it was far too expensive.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The next batter, Jonathan Schoop, hit a sacrifice fly to center field for the only run of the game. Katherine Fominykh,, "Orioles ride rookie Yefry Ramírez to beat error-riddled Rangers, 1-0," 15 July 2018 Their clinic is, perhaps, the only thing that works well in Maiduguri. The Economist, "The fight against Islamic State is moving to Africa," 14 July 2018 Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell and Richard Sanchez were the only repeat starters for the Fire. Juan Pimiento,, "10-man Chicago Fire drop their 3rd straight against FC Dallas," 14 July 2018 Officials said the motorcycle was the only vehicle involved in the crash. Margeaux Sippell,, "Medfield man killed in motorcycle crash in Walpole," 14 July 2018 The uncertainty partly stems from San Diego being the only city in California to discontinue pensions for new hires, meaning there is no model to follow. David Garrick,, "If state Supreme Court rules against San Diego on pensions, it could could cost city millions," 14 July 2018 The only thing Johnson didn’t have was great range. Gary D'amato, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "D'Amato: It's time for the Bucks to retire Marques Johnson's jersey number," 14 July 2018 The only comparison anyone could find was the liberation of Paris in 1944 because of the sense of an opening onto brighter futures, and the ways in which people from all classes and backgrounds merged and melded in the streets. Laurent Dubois, The Atlantic, "France’s Ghosts Return for the World Cup," 14 July 2018 At the heart of that waterfront redevelopment project is the new V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum and the only V&A Museum outside of London. Todd Plummer, Vogue, "A Guide to Dundee, Scotland—the First City Outside London to Get Its Very Own V&A Museum," 14 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

While emotions centered on soccer vs. golf, some speakers questioned the land development proposal, which has only come to light in recent days and has not been clearly defined. Craig Davis,, "David Beckham, Jorge Mas encounter opposition in latest bid for Miami MLS stadium," 13 July 2018 But these are not simply—or only—family dramas; O’Connor turns each narrative into a simultaneously rollicking and searing parable about salvation, redemption, the power of grace and the mysterious workings of God. Francine Prose, WSJ, "Five Best: Francine Prose on Family Troubles," 12 July 2018 The Louisiana black bear qualified as endangered in recent years, only coming off the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's list in 2016, Baton Rouge's The Advocate noted. Joshua Hafner, ajc, "Hunter fined $10,000 for killing black bear in Louisiana," 12 July 2018 Gone are the days when bowls were used only for soup or cereal. Bee Wilson, WSJ, "The Comfort of Bowl Food," 13 July 2018 Two weeks later the dying Yugoslav football association held a World Cup preparatory match in the same stadium, only for Croatian fans to jeer at the Yugoslav national anthem. The Economist, "Croatia stands on the cusp of World Cup victory," 13 July 2018 Why did Jared Leto earn so much praise for his turn in Dallas Buyers’ Club, only for this news to cause a media storm? Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Scarlett Johansson won’t play a trans man after all.," 13 July 2018 Ormand left the company in 2013 for private equity, only to see Magnum Hunter move to Dallas and later file for bankruptcy during the bust. Jordan Blum, San Antonio Express-News, "Lilis may be an acquisition target," 13 July 2018 Children who, like Clarissa, can now only find their father in photographs. Helen Ubiñas,, "Families of homicide victims, bonded by love | Helen Ubiñas," 13 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'only.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of only


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for only


Middle English, from Old English ānlīc, from ān one — more at one


see only entry 1

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Statistics for only

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for only

The first known use of only was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for only



English Language Learners Definition of only

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: alone in a class or category : existing with no other or others of the same kind



English Language Learners Definition of only (Entry 2 of 2)

: no more than

: nothing other than

: excluding all others : nobody or nothing except


on·ly | \ ˈōn-lē \

Kids Definition of only

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : alone in or of a class or kind : sole He is the only survivor.

2 : best without doubt You are the only person for me.



Kids Definition of only (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : no more than We lost only one game.

2 : no one or nothing other than Only you know my secret. There may be other methods, but only this will do.

3 : in no other situation, time, place, or condition except Use medicine only when necessary.

4 : in the end It will only make you sick.

5 : as recently as I saw him only last week.

Kids Definition of only (Entry 3 of 3)

: except that I'd like to play, only I'm too tired.

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Comments on only

What made you want to look up only? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


alleviating pain or harshness

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