Definition of only in US English:

only

adverb

  • 1And no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively.

    ‘there are only a limited number of tickets available’
    ‘only their faith sustained them’
    • ‘There was no way of removing the feet at the end of the day without damaging them and so each pair could only be used once.’
    • ‘I've only worn them out once - but I have been known to slip them on to do the hoovering.’
    • ‘Besides, most people only hold two cards at any one time so why impose a limit at all.’
    • ‘What was she doing dreaming about a female blogger whose eyes she had only seen once?’
    • ‘Christopher has been to York only once before, ironically when he had another injury.’
    • ‘If people must have fireworks then they should only be for properly organised displays.’
    • ‘In two of the cases, he had never met them and in the other had met the girl only once.’
    • ‘You really fancy this girl and you know she has a boyfriend, but you have only met him once or twice.’
    • ‘Once only a few precious Yuppies had cellphones, now every burglar has at least one mobile.’
    • ‘She says they have only met once since, to try to sort out the divorce arrangements.’
    • ‘He has only been to Scotland once before, but to play golf rather than football.’
    • ‘So maybe it's just fine that we peek out of English and into the rest of the world only once a year or so.’
    • ‘Lord Lansdowne said the estate has only covered its losses once in the past 13 years.’
    • ‘This is just their sixth ever meeting and only once has a match consisted of less then three goals.’
    • ‘Working on this is something that happens only once in an archaeologist's lifetime.’
    • ‘I am allowed to get properly drunk once a week but only on a Friday or Saturday.’
    • ‘Some companies, sticking to the rule book, only give notice once every three years.’
    • ‘They are huge missiles that should only be used in properly managed public displays.’
    • ‘He made the surprising admission, once known only to the cognoscenti, that he was a lawyer.’
    • ‘It is the only one solely dedicated to finding the cause and cure of all kinds of arthritis.’
    at most, at best, just, only just, no more than, not more than, as little as
    exclusively, solely, entirely, uniquely, wholly, to the exclusion of everything else
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 No more than (implying that more was hoped for or expected); merely.
      ‘deaths from heart disease have only declined by 10 percent’
      ‘she was still only in her mid-thirties’
      • ‘Until the 1930s, the life expectancy of a baby with the disease was only a few months.’
      • ‘The Spanish figure of only 100 is hardly credible and should be the stuff of scandal.’
      • ‘However do you expect to r-run an operation as c-complex as this with only a staff of seven?’
      • ‘He was born with a congenital heart defect which meant he had only half a heart.’
      • ‘Most jobs were only one or two hours and she was expected to drive her own car between them.’
      • ‘Is there a danger we could expect too much of what is, after all, only a five-day event?’
      • ‘But this does not imply that the track sprinter can get by with training only a few days a week.’
      • ‘As a group, the San have declined in numbers and only a very few now live in the Kalahari.’
      • ‘Kenneth is only 17 and was hardly made for the job of shadowing one as elusive as Bellamy.’
      • ‘We are a small special school and a decline in only a small number of children can affect the budget.’
      • ‘One of the animals shot was a lamb that was only three hours old, along with cows that were in calf.’
  • 2No longer ago than.

    ‘genes that were discovered only last year’
    • ‘This was discovered only a fortnight ago by Milngavie Primary School near Glasgow.’
    • ‘The museum itself is built right on the site of a Viking settlement, discovered only a few years ago.’
    at most, at best, just, only just, no more than, not more than, as little as
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 Not until.
      ‘a final report reached him only on January 15’
      • ‘However, Heather discovered the present only a couple of days later and unwrapped it.’
      • ‘The company only discovered the mistake when irate bus users rang to complain yesterday.’
      • ‘Megson and his advisers only discovered Imerman was involved at the eleventh hour.’
      • ‘Police suspicions were only raised when they discovered he had a travelcard in a third name.’
      • ‘The final wreck in our trilogy of paddle steamers has only recently been discovered.’
      • ‘His son finds out and it is only at the end of the play we discover the tragedy that results.’
      • ‘It is only later that the investor discovers that the wine is far less valuable than they were led to believe.’
      • ‘Police told the court that it was only after close examination that they discovered it was a replica.’
      • ‘She became stuck on a narrow ledge and was only rescued after the fire brigade was called out.’
      • ‘Wei Hui only discovered this when she phoned her publisher to discuss royalties.’
      • ‘However the tickets never arrived and she only discovered she had won when she saw her name in the paper.’
      • ‘It was only then I discovered they had, in fact, been trying to break into the vestry.’
      • ‘She said she had been out all day on Sunday and only discovered what had been going on when she read it in the paper.’
      • ‘He used not to have comments, and I only discovered that he'd got them going this week.’
      • ‘It was only when Tessa, barely out of her teens, was in a car crash that the truth surfaced.’
      • ‘He only discovered her duplicity when he found a marriage certificate in her handbag.’
      • ‘I only discovered this disturbing news when we met to talk about her new position.’
      • ‘The two friends only discovered Jake had a painful condition after picking him up in Bolton.’
      • ‘The club had an air to it, as though it had only recently discovered the miracle of electricity.’
      • ‘It was only after they had signed up that they discovered they would in fact have to pay for this service.’
  • 3with infinitive With the negative or unfortunate result that.

    ‘she turned into the parking car, only to find her way blocked’
    • ‘He has often arrived back in Aberdeen at one in the morning only to be on the hospital ward five hours later.’
    • ‘I spit the fish out into my hand, only to discover the cracked remains of not one, but both caps.’
    • ‘We all rushed for the boat when it arrived only to be told it was going round the lake.’
    • ‘After we went to see a car at the Showroom were I work, only to find another couple looking at it.’
    • ‘My doctor gets miffed when taking my blood pressure only to discover that it is fine.’
    • ‘So then we decided we wanted to see some of the attractions, only to find you had to have a car to do most.’
    • ‘I kicked myself and headed down to the office, only to discover that it was closed for the siesta.’
    • ‘She plucked off her blindfold only to discover the blushing footman she had just embraced!’
    • ‘Two men wake in a large filthy bathroom only to discover they are chained to opposite walls.’
    • ‘He said a prototype car had been run round inside the factory only to be destroyed in a fire.’
    • ‘One day he stole a car, took off and returned only to find the cops were on to his scam.’
    • ‘It was a similar story at St Aidan's where parents arrived at the cordon only to be turned away.’
    • ‘He ran away to become an actor, only to discover there were no acting schools in the city.’
    • ‘Rivers and lakes can dry up during hot seasons so you can have a great tip only to arrive to find a mud bowl!’
    • ‘The team spent all this time exploring new avenues, only to arrive back at their starting point.’
    • ‘He immediately set off in his car, only to be deliberately driven off the road by another car.’
    • ‘I went up to my locker, only to discover that the lock was missing and half my books were gone.’
    • ‘How must it feel to arrive at the door of a country only to find it slammed in your face?’
    • ‘At a barbecue men insist on cooking, only to discover that they're still rubbish at it.’
    • ‘Years later, he tried to call his boyfriend from his home in Oval, only to discover he was in prison.’
    1. 3.1with modal Inevitably, although unfortunate or undesirable.
      ‘rebellion will only bring more unhappiness’
      ‘if banks canceled the debts, these countries would only borrow more’
      • ‘Is liberty a price worth paying, for a security that will only fuel our feelings of insecurity?’
      • ‘If the real problem is not addressed, then the plaster will only hide the rot.’
      • ‘It will only create more problems, the same ones we have at the Mannington Roundabout.’
      • ‘If they keep paying Mr Garland the above amount things will only get worse before they get better.’
      • ‘Now Mrs Pratley, a lettings manager, fears it will only be a matter of time before her son has a fall.’
      • ‘Further delay would only prolong the agony of dozens of families and can have no justification.’
      • ‘Billy finally realises that without massive investment the club will only get worse.’
      • ‘If a man doesn't want to call on Monday, then why make an arrangement to, when it will only be broken?’
      • ‘Continuing to falsely condemn Israel in knee jerk fashion will only hasten that outcome.’
      • ‘I wish I could get her to understand that he will only ever hurt her but she loves him and cannot see the bad in him.’
      • ‘That's the balancing act, and if it's not looked at now, it will only get harder in the long term.’
      • ‘It will not alter patient care and will only make money for private companies.’

adjective

  • 1attributive Alone of its or their kind; single or solitary.

    ‘the only medal we had ever won’
    ‘he was an only child’
    • ‘It was a single blow to the face that handed Peterhead the only way that anyone was going to score a goal in this game.’
    • ‘As the only rower she was in the single sculls and again won a silver medal.’
    • ‘Five years later, he wept as the same pair brought home Britain's only gold in Atlanta.’
    • ‘Nor should it be forgotten that the only large animal to come across will be Cindy the aged lioness.’
    • ‘It's always a good sign when you can recognise almost every single track from only one repeat.’
    • ‘However, we are the only animal on this planet that can successfully do all of them.’
    • ‘The sun has set and the only light comes from the weak glow of a solitary lamp at the end of the pier.’
    • ‘The only drawback was the huge noise these animals created, it scared the life out of the baby.’
    • ‘The pair are Britain's best and possibly only hope for a medal in badminton in Athens.’
    • ‘So far, it has remained a purely veterinary war and the only casualties are animals.’
    • ‘In fact the only animal that would survive is the pig as it can eat just about anything.’
    • ‘Elephants are the only animals in Africa that dig deep holes in search of water.’
    • ‘My single photograph and Brian's two or three are the only ones we managed to get.’
    • ‘The only reason for eating animals and fish is that we wish to indulge our palates.’
    • ‘In all but the simplest animals, the cells of the germ line are the only cells that can give rise to a new organism.’
    • ‘The only thing left of the organic code will be animals, probably lower animals.’
    • ‘This is not only the best single book on the subject but a model of how military history ought to be written.’
    • ‘The puppy and three cats were the only animals abandoned over the festive period.’
    • ‘The only reason animals are allowed to travel so far to slaughter is financial.’
    • ‘The only moments she is alone in the screen are there ones in which we can watch her suffer form abstinence.’
    sole, single, one, one and only, solitary, lone, unique, only possible, individual, exclusive
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    1. 1.1 Alone deserving consideration.
      ‘it's simply the only place to be seen these days’
      • ‘There will be many who consider that the only fitting punishment for them would be a custodial one.’
      • ‘After some consideration, she decided that her only choice was to report it to the police.’
      • ‘For many years, women considered showing cleavage to be the only way to look sexy.’
      • ‘Indeed, it sometimes seems like love stories are the only stories worth telling.’
      • ‘It is not the case that the only alternative to keeping animals in a zoo is euthanasia.’
      • ‘The sports bits are the only parts of the Today programme worth listening to.’
      • ‘Are High Street dealers tied to a single manufacturer the only place to buy new?’
      • ‘When trying to consider the medium as an artistic one it's really the only factor to be considered.’
      • ‘Are words that say precisely what you want to hear the only way to measure anything?’
      solely, just, uniquely, exclusively
      View synonyms

conjunction

informal
  • Except that; but for the fact that.

    ‘he is still a young man, only he seems older because of his careworn expression’

Usage

In normal, everyday English, the tendency is to place only as early as possible in the sentence, generally just before the verb, and the result is rarely ambiguous. Misunderstandings are possible, however, and grammarians have debated the matter for more than two hundred years. Advice varies, but in general, ambiguity is less likely if only is placed as close as is naturally possible to the word(s) to be modified or emphasized. I saw her only once stresses the single instance; I only saw her once leaves it unclear whether she was heard (or otherwise perceived) in addition to being seen

Phrases

  • only just

    • 1By a very small margin; almost not.

      ‘the building survived the earthquake, but only just’
      • ‘It might have been spring, but only just barely, and winter was still clinging to the town of Stancorrie.’
      • ‘Though only just due to earthquakes and typhoons, but like Gloria Gaynor, we have survived.’
      • ‘The passage here is so narrow that the big male can only just squeeze through.’
      • ‘Even after three days, I'm only just getting the hang of what to look for on the mass of blue below.’
      • ‘As recently as 1998 the average house price was only just over four times the cost of a Mondeo.’
      • ‘Get back to water they did, but only just, and Stuart, his men and horses were lucky to escape.’
      • ‘With just seconds to spare, Anelka only just escaped a £120 bill and being towed away.’
      • ‘At the moment I'm earning a very basic wage, only just enough to keep going.’
      • ‘The road has been made so narrow in places that buses and lorries can only just get through.’
      • ‘So often you see club golfers arriving in a rush, only just in time for their tee-off.’
      at most, at best, just, only just, no more than, not more than, as little as
      View synonyms
      1. 1.1Very recently.
        ‘I'd only just arrived back from Paris’
        • ‘She sounded exhausted, and Liena guessed that, wherever she was, she had only just arrived.’
        • ‘She added that the report had only just arrived at the department and no decisions had yet been taken.’
        • ‘We had appalling service and replacement kitchen units have only just arrived.’
        • ‘She had only just arrived in this country from Jamaica and was due to start primary school this week.’
        • ‘Most French bombers were still obsolete, and the newer models were only just starting to arrive.’
        • ‘You have only just arrived, and are both tired and are not thinking properly.’
        • ‘Fr Jim was at home on holidays recently and has only just returned to his Kenyan base.’
        • ‘I transferred a grand to my UK account recently and it only just put me back in the black.’
        • ‘She has only just arrived for our interview but has been called back to her newspaper with a crisis pending.’
        • ‘Their best and brightest will have either left the cabinet or have only just arrived.’
        recently, just, just recently, only just, lately, freshly, not long ago, a short time ago, just a short time ago, a moment ago, just a moment ago, only now, of late, new-
        View synonyms
  • only too —

    • Used to emphasize that something is the case to an extreme or regrettable extent.

      ‘you should be only too glad to be rid of him’
      ‘they found that the rumor was only too true’
      • ‘You really need to talk with someone about this, and your best friend or favorite sibling will be only too happy to listen.’
      • ‘By that time a number of landlords were only too glad to sell up and be expropriated.’
      • ‘Rebecca seemed only too glad to do so, as she seemed also to want to sit by this newcomer.’
      • ‘The audience liked it and I was flooded with questions which I was only too happy to answer.’
      • ‘He will be only too glad to hear from you so why not contact the Western People to see what we can do for you.’
      • ‘It is only too convenient to pose for photo opportunities and political points.’
      • ‘Agents are only too glad to employ former players for their contacts in the game.’
      • ‘As with scores of book-lovers, book sellers are only too happy to carry the credit.’
      • ‘Being an inveterate gambler, the fourth son was only too glad to accept the offer.’
      • ‘The builders are only too happy to tell them what they want to hear.’

Origin

Old English ānlic (adjective) (see one, -ly).

Pronunciation

only

/ˈōnlē//ˈoʊnli/