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

Jon Lester, sporting 11 wins and a 2.45 ERA on his way to a fifth All-Star Game, is the only starter who can be counted on. Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY, "The Cubs aren't getting Manny Machado - and they're not worried if the Brewers do," 10 July 2018 Although Altuve will be the only Astros starter in the game, he'll be joined by four teammates - outfielder George Springer, third baseman Alex Bregman and pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Matt Young, Houston Chronicle, "Where Jose Altuve ranks among all-time Astros All-Star starters," 9 July 2018 This appears to be the only Deutsche Bank loan to Trump that involved the younger Kennedy. Salvador Rizzo,, "There is an unfounded conspiracy theory about the Supreme Court and Trump Tower Chicago," 14 July 2018 On the backs are the names of an older generation of players—Zidane, Thuram, Henry—who in that year won France’s first and only World Cup trophy. Laurent Dubois, The Atlantic, "France’s Ghosts Return for the World Cup," 14 July 2018 After observing 10 groups over two nights, the only thing definitively determined was orange is out. Kevin Acee,, "Padres find they can't turn all blue eyes brown, but ...," 14 July 2018 Near San Francisco, a Silicon Valley billionaire wants to lock the only road to Martins Beach, which runs through his property. CBS News, "Locals residents and state officials battle over access to public California beach," 13 July 2018 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

And this year’s Stein only fits women taller than five foot three. Kelly Bastone, Outside Online, "The Best Women’s Backpacking Packs," 13 July 2018 But since 2000, only a handful of countries have joined the world map. The Economist, "Not all borders make sense. But changing them is dangerous," 12 July 2018 Unlike the men, female professional golfers haven’t enjoyed an expansive senior tour with only a handful of events held on the Legends Tour. Gene Chamberlain,, "Elaine Crosby leads after first round of inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club," 12 July 2018 Oregon’s sanctuary law is the oldest in the nation and one of only a handful of similarly broad laws in the U.S. — and a battle over its future could draw the famously liberal state into the middle of the national immigration debate this fall. Washington Post, "Groups mobilize against threat to Oregon’s ‘sanctuary’ law," 11 July 2018 Not only have changing social norms allowed more women to enter the workplace, but working women have been shifting into better jobs. Evan Horowitz,, "Work is getting better, especially for women," 14 July 2018 And Australia should have not only welcomed the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem but moved ours, too. Tony Abbott, WSJ, "An Ally Sizes Up Donald Trump," 13 July 2018 With nurse assistants earning an average of $13.23 an hour in 2017, nursing homes compete for workers not only with better-paying employers like hospitals, but also with retailers. Jordan Rau, Washington Post, "‘Like A Ghost Town’: Erratic Nursing Home Staffing Revealed Through New Records," 13 July 2018 Not only that, but business founders in their 20s were the least likely to succeed. Michael Taylor, San Antonio Express-News, "The best age for entrepreneurship," 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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Learn More about only

Statistics for only

Last Updated

7 Nov 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).


something that serves to warn or remind

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