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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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

Pretty soon the black and white checkered dance floor was packed and the only way to get to the bar was to salsa through the crowd. Lauren Sanchez, Vogue, "Lin-Manuel Miranda Received a Standing Ovation at Hamilton’s Opening Night in Puerto Rico," 14 Jan. 2019 From my experience as a dietitian, the only surefire way to prevent binging is to ease up on the restriction. SELF, "PSA: Healthy Eating Should Include Mental and Social Health, Too.," 11 Jan. 2019 The only way to completely get rid of it is by using your appliance's self-cleaning function. Amanda Garrity, Good Housekeeping, "How to Clean an Oven Quickly and Painlessly," 18 Dec. 2018 Malin's secret to a festive space that's not overwhelming is keeping an open mind, and not boxing himself in by thinking traditional items are the only way. Danielle Tullo, House Beautiful, "Gray Malin's Holiday Decor Proves That Coral Is The Best Christmas Color," 12 Dec. 2018 Stock pickers aren’t the only ones taking on management. Justin Baer And Dawn Lim, WSJ, "Mutual Fund Managers Try a New Role: Activist Investor," 30 Dec. 2018 But the federal government is not the only one making new gun laws in America. German Lopez, Vox, "How the Parkland shooting changed America’s gun debate," 26 Dec. 2018 The only one that doesn’t want the wall are the Democrats. Darlene Superville, The Seattle Times, "Post-holiday, partial government shutdown to gain impact," 25 Dec. 2018 Babor x All Woman Project Beauty giants aren't the only ones making changes. Leah Prinzivalli, Glamour, "The 10 Most Groundbreaking Beauty Campaigns of 2018," 22 Dec. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

However, as the newlyweds were only seen in the car arriving at Buckingham Palace, their Christmas Day appearance is more more special. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Princess Eugenie & Jack Brooksbank Stepped Out for Their First Christmas as a Married Couple," 30 Dec. 2018 On the count’s death, in 1988, R.P.’s family operated it as a modest guesthouse, only to see this eccentric legacy be almost lost forever due to Nepal’s political tumult. Sophy Roberts, Condé Nast Traveler, "On Your Next Trip to Nepal, Rent the House Sir Edmund Hillary Loved," 20 Dec. 2018 On one hand, this is more than the $50 plan AT&T currently offers for an LTE mobile hotspot, but the $50 plan is only for 10GB. Ron Amadeo, Ars Technica, "AT&T 5G goes live this week with ridiculously overpowered hotspot," 20 Dec. 2018 Millions of people have left traditional cable behind in favor of paying only for broadband internet and streaming services. Chris Welch, The Verge, "The Verge Cord Cutter’s Guide: hardware, software, and services," 20 Dec. 2018 Even so, there are still hundreds of thousands of Ranch-style homes, which in recent years have seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity—if only for renovations’ sake. Maggie Burch, House Beautiful, "Here’s Why Ranch-Style Houses Are Called Ranches," 20 Dec. 2018 And in a room full of royals, eyes were likely on two of the younger guests, if only for their cuteness: Princess Charlotte and Prince George. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Prince George and Princess Charlotte Attend the Queen's Christmas Lunch at Buckingham Palace," 19 Dec. 2018 Also of note, rumors suggest the S10 Plus will only have three cameras like the S10, though the specifications Olixar received indicate a fourth camera will be added to match the Galaxy A9. Michael Simon, PCWorld, "Samsung Galaxy S10 renders show hole-punch camera, headphone jack, and no fingerprint sensor," 13 Dec. 2018 Bennu is less than 1,700 feet across, which is only slightly longer than the height of the Empire State Building. Loren Grush, The Verge, "After a two-year journey, a NASA spacecraft arrives at its target asteroid," 3 Dec. 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

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

17 Jan 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

: 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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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

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).


to gather or build up little by little

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