on·​ly | \ ˈōn-lē How to pronounce only (audio) \

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

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

Adjective the only way to really appreciate the beauty of the forest is to walk through it that is the only possible right answer Adverb 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. Conjunction 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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Jordan Spieth, who joined Woods and McIlroy in a group that drew a loud and thoroughly entertained crowd, opened with a 72 in his bid to capture the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. Dave Skretta, Chicago Tribune, 20 May 2022 Jordan Spieth, who joined Woods and McIlroy in a group that drew a loud and thoroughly entertained crowd, opened with a 72 in his bid to capture the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. Doug Ferguson, Hartford Courant, 20 May 2022 The only human-to-human transmission case was between a health care worker in the United Kingdom who cared for a patient there. Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY, 20 May 2022 Baylor is the only other Big 12 team Xavier has faced during the regular season or in the NCAA tournament since the Muskies joined the Big East in 2013. Dave Clark, The Enquirer, 19 May 2022 For many activists and journalists jailed under the law, their only fault is their Muslim identity. Akanksha Singh And Roshan Abbas, CNN, 19 May 2022 Or Tom Sneva who is the only driver with sunglasses on his face. Grace Hollars, The Indianapolis Star, 19 May 2022 The Senate favored the spending plan overwhelmingly, with only Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold opposed. Iris Samuels, Anchorage Daily News, 19 May 2022 The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001 to win Arizona's first and only major men's professional sports title. Jeremy Cluff, The Arizona Republic, 19 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb Of course, it’s not only government authorities whose campaigns suffer from boomerang effects. Gleb Tsipursky, Fortune, 20 May 2022 Women in Balance will not only shine a light on Ferragamo’s story, but will also honor the legacy of other fearless women between the late 1950s and the early 1960s who had the courage to build a different society than the one they were born into. Lauren Tappan, Town & Country, 20 May 2022 The honey in this treatment not only smells yummy but helps to clear out the pores, while Vitamin E and olive oil moisturize and soothe the skin. ELLE, 20 May 2022 To Beijing, buying more from Russia is not only a friendly gesture to Moscow, but also a smart move that benefits China's own economic needs. Laura He, CNN, 20 May 2022 Alongside filling the knowledge gap, investing in existing staff not only means benefitting from better business decision-making by people who already know the business but can also help positively contribute to global prosperity. Alexander Igelsböck, Forbes, 20 May 2022 Clients have acknowledged that embracing a pet has saved not only the animal’s life, but their own as well. Mike Klingaman, Baltimore Sun, 20 May 2022 This genre-bending memoir tackles domestic abuse through a lens that will break open your understanding of not only the topic, but the form a story can take. Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping, 20 May 2022 Parrish-Wright told The Courier Journal her supporters included not only those who have protested against racial inequities and police brutality but also doctors, lawyers and teachers. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, 20 May 2022 See More

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.

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

Adjective and Adverb

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

Learn More About only

Time Traveler for only

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near only



only child

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Statistics for only

Last Updated

21 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Only.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for only


on·​ly | \ ˈōn-lē How to pronounce only (audio) \

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.

More from Merriam-Webster on only

Nglish: Translation of only for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of only for Arabic Speakers


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