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

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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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Fuller has been up and down but remains the only one of that quartet with even 100 career catches. Nate Davis, USA Today, "101 biggest NFL draft busts in history: Which gaffes stand out the most?," 12 Apr. 2021 Bolduc said the facility, which also offers a drive-through option for meal pickup, is the only one of its kind on I-91 between New Haven and upstate Vermont. Steven Goode,, "New multimillion dollar travel plaza on I-91 in Hartford rolls out the welcome mat for truckers and drivers," 12 Apr. 2021 Put another way, the RS7 is the only one of this stunningly quick bunch that won't wake a toddler on the drive home from Grandma's. Elana Scherr, Car and Driver, "Tested: 2021 Audi RS7 vs. 2020 BMW M8 Gran Coupe vs. 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT63 S," 12 Apr. 2021 The other workers burst out laughing, Valle said, sarcastically congratulating her on being the only one among them who would live. oregonlive, "Many Oregon people of color eager to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while others wait for answers," 11 Apr. 2021 One effort underway in Franklin County, Ohio, has helped prioritize high schoolers and make getting the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine -- the only one currently authorized for those as young as 16 -- as easy as possible. Meredith Deliso, ABC News, "High schoolers are getting the COVID-19 vaccine. What do they think?," 11 Apr. 2021 Of the 14 quarterbacks drafted in the top five picks from 2009-2018, Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, is the only one currently with his original team. cleveland, "Browns’ Baker Mayfield is the only NFL QB drafted in the top 5 from 2009-2018 still with his original team," 11 Apr. 2021 Victories now come in new ways, in feeling better than the previous day and understanding that his own internal scoreboard is the only one that matters. Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, "For UCLA’s Jalen Hill, a sport surrendered meant a crushing burden lifted," 10 Apr. 2021 The journey continued until the only option left was Dallas, Texas. Simon Thompson, Forbes, "As ‘La Bamba’ Returns To Theaters, Lou Diamond Phillips And Luis Valdez Revisit The 80s Classic," 9 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb Not only has Amazon debuted a new device, the Halo, but Google has acquired Fitbit after months of negotiation. Sam Volchenboum, STAT, "Building the perfect wearable for clinical trials," 13 Apr. 2021 Another issue is adoption, not only among users who have to trust the technology but with the businesses themselves, from grocery and retail stores to movie theaters and workplaces. Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN, "Vaccine passport apps are about to be everywhere. It could get complicated," 13 Apr. 2021 Piontek sought to have not only such preliminary observations declared unconstitutional, but also to suppress his and Tussler's statements to the warden the night of Nov. 26, and evidence taken from inside the cabin. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Former judge can avoid conviction for illegal deer shining, but gives up rifle, this year's hunting privileges and $544.50," 13 Apr. 2021 Not only was Duffy gone but his profession was dying, too—talkies had arrived, and the award for Best Title Writing (won by Joseph Farnham) was discontinued the next year. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, "Oscars Spotlight: The 2021 Nominees for Best Actor," 13 Apr. 2021 Government has not only been unable to counter these trends; partisan blockage has undermined even basic tasks of governing such as assuring the integrity of elections. Robert Kuttner, The New York Review of Books, "Dividends of a Just Economy," 13 Apr. 2021 Araghchi added that the Middle East nation would not only replace the centrifuges that were damaged on Sunday, but also install an additional 1,000 centrifuges of a 50% higher enrichment capacity. Carly Roman, Washington Examiner, "Iran to enrich uranium at highest-ever levels after Natanz attack," 13 Apr. 2021 The Journal’s Opinion page is a huge inhibitor, not only in terms of growing the paper’s audience but in recruiting young, talented journalists. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Don’t Change, Wall Street Journal," 13 Apr. 2021 Consensys’ MetaMask browser plugin not only lets users store and manage cryptocurrency, but also interact with crypto and NFT applications on the web. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Mastercard, UBS, and J.P. Morgan pour $65 million into Ethereum startup studio Consensys," 13 Apr. 2021

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

Adjective and Adverb

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

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Time Traveler for only

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for only

Last Updated

15 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Only.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

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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
used for emphasis sometimes used in the phrase only just


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.

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More from Merriam-Webster on only

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for only

Nglish: Translation of only for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of only for Arabic Speakers

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