only

1 of 3

adjective

on·​ly ˈōn-lē How to pronounce only (audio)
1
: unquestionably the best : peerless
is convinced that his team is the only one
2
a
: 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.

only

2 of 3

adverb

1
a
: as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different : merely
has only lost one electionGeorge Orwell
b
: solely, exclusively
known only to him
2
: at the very least
it was only too true
3
a
: in the final outcome
will only make you sick
b
: with nevertheless the final result
won the battles, only to lose the war
4
a
: 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
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.

only

3 of 3

conjunction

1
a
: 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 herJack London

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
The recent drawing marked the only unclaimed Mega Millions jackpot ticket in 2023, according to the group's website. Nicholas Rice, Peoplemag, 18 Feb. 2024 The only way to evaluate how CMS does its job is broad access to these programs’ data, which are collected by CMS but ultimately belong to the American people. Ge Bai, Forbes, 18 Feb. 2024 Possibly the only bright spot in this ongoing crisis, experts say, is that even with accelerating movement, the region is not expected to morph into a catastrophic landslide, as occurred last summer in nearby Rolling Hills Estates. Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times, 18 Feb. 2024 Hard Rock Bet, Florida’s only legal sportsbook that recently became an official partner of Daytona International, has a number of specials for the Daytona 500, including +100 odds that a driver from Hendrick, JGR or Penske wins the race. Shane Connuck, Charlotte Observer, 18 Feb. 2024 The only higher wind speed recorded at a comparable altitude was 267 mph on Dec. 6, 2002. Jason Samenow, Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2024 That most recognized of all presidential portraits is the only remaining possession from the original building. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Feb. 2024 Mass killings are rare in Iran, where hunting rifles are the only weapons people are allowed to possess. Reuters, CNN, 17 Feb. 2024 The court could say that the 14th Amendment shouldn’t be applied to party primaries, only general elections. Andy Kroll, ProPublica, 6 Feb. 2024
Adverb
In their wake, the George W. Bush administration decided to solve not only the terrorism problem but the Iraq one as well, choosing to conquer the country and forcibly eliminate Saddam’s regime. Gideon Rose, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 This strategic move not only marks Forbes' deeper dive into the Web3 space but also solidifies its belief in the transformative potential of the metaverse. Forbes Web3, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 As chaos and confusion ensued, host for the night Melissa Peterman stepped out to entertain the crowd which only resulted in more confusion. Jazz Tangcay, Variety, 19 Feb. 2024 In the script, the characters talk about that fine line between authenticity and kitsch that can only be achieved when everything is balanced just right, so that the work of art is true to the artist’s vision but simple and clear enough that an audience can easily comprehend it. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Feb. 2024 Bendix wants to improve the team’s scouting and player development and rebuild the now-barren farm system, whose only top-100 prospect (at number 57) is a 19-year-old righty pitcher named Noble Meyer who might be ready for a call-up around, say, 2026. Greg Cote, Miami Herald, 19 Feb. 2024 Currently, only a handful of countries make their own planes because of extremely high barriers to entry in the industry. Chris Lau, CNN, 19 Feb. 2024 Leading the cast are Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, who both portray strong yet broken characters who struggle not only with their elusive case but also with their fractured lives. Keith Langston, Peoplemag, 19 Feb. 2024 As of Tuesday afternoon, LAHSA said nearly all of its winter shelters were at capacity, with only a shelter in Duarte having 72 empty beds. Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times, 7 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'only.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Adverb

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

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Adverb

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

Conjunction

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near only

Cite this Entry

“Only.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/only. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

only

1 of 3 adjective
on·​ly ˈōn-lē How to pronounce only (audio)
1
: the best without doubt
it's the only thing for me
2
a
: alone in or of a class or kind : sole
the only survivor of the crash
b
: having no brother or sister
an only child
3
: few entry 2 sense 1
one of the only areas not yet explored

only

2 of 3 adverb
1
a
: as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different
worked only in the mornings
b
: no one or nothing other than
only you know
2
: at the very least
it was only too true
3
a
: in the end
it will only make you sick
b
: with the result
found my pen, only to lose it again
4
a
: as recently as
only last week
b
: in the immediate past
only just saw her

only

3 of 3 conjunction
: except that
I'd play, only I'm too tired

More from Merriam-Webster on only

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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