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 With the first session of summer school less than a month away, most school districts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area -- including Dallas ISD -- already decided on holding classes in a virtual-only format for the coming months. Allie Morris, Dallas News, "Bars, rodeo and tattoo parlors reopen in Texas this week. Here are 6 things to know.," 19 May 2020 In Greece, the only country where smoking is more prevalent than Indonesia, the coronavirus outbreak has been relatively mild, with fewer than 3,000 cases, though nearly 6% of patients have died. Bruce Einhorn, Bloomberg.com, "Heavy Smoking Blamed for Indonesia’s 6.6% Coronavirus Death Rate," 19 May 2020 The only other story that compares is the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, which was both lauded and controversial, in the way these things almost always are. Julie Muncy, Wired, "Now Is the Best Time for Videogame Reboots," 19 May 2020 The only non-tackle among them is Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey. 4. Nathan Baird, cleveland, "Which Ohio State football players will be 2021 first-round NFL Draft picks in Cleveland? Surveying the mocks," 19 May 2020 Their only hope is a good showing for his final Academy project: Mentorship in the ratty, low-budget circus of death known as the Hunger Games. Darren Franich, EW.com, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes review: Hunger Games prequel's darkly funny, way too long," 19 May 2020 The only trip offered will be the Castle Adventure which is 5 miles long, lasts 2-4 hours and travels past the Loveland Castle. Briana Rice, Cincinnati.com, "Want to go kayaking in Cincinnati area? Everything you need to know about what's open when," 19 May 2020 The only real question is whether, when the stirrings of fascism are redefined as the thing itself, there is an analytical cost. Samuel Moyn, The New York Review of Books, "The Trouble with Comparisons," 19 May 2020 Humphrey joined Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as the only players with two fumble-return touchdowns in 2019. Mark Inabinett | Minabinett@al.com, al, "Alabama alumni score 6 of NFL’s top 25 defensive touchdowns in 2019," 18 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb If you were asked to compare former Detroit Pistons standout Dennis Rodman to a fictional movie character, there would only be one correct answer: Peter Pan. Sean Merriman, Detroit Free Press, "ESPN's Dennis Rodman 30 for 30 film sheds light on his Detroit Pistons days," 11 Sep. 2019 At 135th Street, drivers will only be able to turn right onto and off the state road. John Tuohy, Indianapolis Star, "Construction on an important Hamilton County route is about to cause serious headaches," 10 Sep. 2019 At the Apple Event, it was announced that Apple Arcade subscribers will get access to 100 exclusive games that will only be playable on Apple products like the iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, and the Apple TV device. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Apple Arcade: Everything You Need to Know About the New Video Game Streaming Service," 10 Sep. 2019 Brinson’s struggles have only been magnified with the immense success of Yelich. Wells Dusenbury, sun-sentinel.com, "As struggles continue, fixing Lewis Brinson’s swing has been a ‘battle’ for Marlins," 10 Sep. 2019 Today only, everything is 30% off — yes, everything. Dominique Hobdy, Essence, "Rihanna's Savage x Fenty Is Now Available On Amazon — And Its 30% Off Today Only!," 10 Sep. 2019 Perhaps, but that'll only be the case if these predictions all turn out to be true. Wired, "Rise of Skywalker," 9 Sep. 2019 The moment is right for another sequel, if only there were someone left in Washington with the competence and courage to produce it. Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post, "Big agencies and studios have a lock on Hollywood. It’s high time to apply antitrust law.," 9 Sep. 2019 In Milwaukee, the full moon occurs at 11:32 p.m. The last time a full moon occurred on Friday the 13th was in June 2014, but only in the Eastern Time Zone. Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Get ready for 'harvest moon effect' as the full moon rises on Friday the 13th," 9 Sep. 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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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

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Only.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/only. Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for only

How to pronounce only (audio)

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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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