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


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

Hudson, 70, pitched two innings for the '69 club in his only major league game., "Mets apologize to 2 living members of its 1969 World Series team who were included in a video montage of dead players," 1 July 2019 Hudson, 70, was a reliever in one Mets game that year—his only big-league game. Fox News, "Mets flub 'Miracle Mets' celebration, declaring 2 players dead when they're still alive," 1 July 2019 Their only other game in Glendale, the 2016 ArenaBowl, resulted in a loss to the Philadelphia Soul. Richard Obert, azcentral, "Drew Powell, Rattlers roll to United Bowl with rout of Nebraska Danger," 30 June 2019 The only difference in their outfits here were their footwear! De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Kylie Jenner and Stormi Webster's Best Matching Moments," 30 June 2019 Other than the headline-grabbing moment and the unprecedented images, Trump's only accomplishment appeared to be securing an agreement to restart nuclear talks that he himself had walked out on in February during his last summit with Kim in Vietnam. Jonathan Lemire, Fortune, "‘Let’s Do It.’ 3 Hours at the DMZ and a Made-for-TV Moment," 30 June 2019 His only blemish was allowing an RBI single to Kurt Suzuki with two outs in the fourth inning. Anthony Fenech, Detroit Free Press, "Max Scherzer strikes out 14 Detroit Tigers, outduels Jordan Zimmermann," 30 June 2019 For more than a year, Ansly's only visitor had been his pro-bono lawyer. CBS News, "Asylum-seeker from Haiti finds an army of supporters in Cleveland," 30 June 2019 Gardner was the only other Indiana-native to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Tyler Kraft, Indianapolis Star, "Damon Bailey inducted into National High School Hall of Fame," 29 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

Today, the only visible evidence of the Grey family estate is a series of brick ruins scattered across Bradgate Park. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "Is This the Childhood Home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen?," 3 July 2019 But his solution to do so—namely, mass mobilization—only goes so far. Adam Eichen, The New Republic, "Restoring Democracy is Not Open to Debate," 2 July 2019 These cuts only include one job position, a systems administrator position which was already vacant. Emily Sorensen, Pomerado News, "PUSD 2019-20 budget makes $5.5 million in cuts to meet board’s approval," 2 July 2019 Tracy McGrady spent one season with the Pistons that was noteworthy only for its unusual dysfunction. Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press, "Why Derrick Rose brings 'instant buckets' to Pistons and risky history," 1 July 2019 Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. Chancellor Agard,, "Goodbye Suits, Hello Pearson," 1 July 2019 Those costs are only going up because several channels that provide that content are going it alone. Anna Washenko, Ars Technica, "PlayStation Vue applies a $5-a-month increase to all live TV plans," 1 July 2019 Instead, Far From Home will only have to contend with Universal's The Secret Life of Pets 2, which opens Friday. Patrick Brzeski, The Hollywood Reporter, "China Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Rides Rave Word-of-Mouth to $98M Opening," 1 July 2019 The bargain tickets can only be purchased online via Laura Daily And Bryan K. Chavez, The Know, "16 free and cheap things to do around Denver in July," 1 July 2019

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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Learn More about only

Statistics for only

Last Updated

4 Jul 2019

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
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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with only

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for only

Spanish Central: Translation of only

Nglish: Translation of only for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of only for Arabic Speakers

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