Definition of only in 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’
    • ‘I am allowed to get properly drunk once a week but only on a Friday or Saturday.’
    • ‘He has only been to Scotland once before, but to play golf rather than football.’
    • ‘What was she doing dreaming about a female blogger whose eyes she had only seen 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘You really fancy this girl and you know she has a boyfriend, but you have only met him once or twice.’
    • ‘She says they have only met once since, to try to sort out the divorce arrangements.’
    • ‘In two of the cases, he had never met them and in the other had met the girl only once.’
    • ‘If people must have fireworks then they should only be for properly organised displays.’
    • ‘This is just their sixth ever meeting and only once has a match consisted of less then three goals.’
    • ‘It is the only one solely dedicated to finding the cause and cure of all kinds of arthritis.’
    • ‘He made the surprising admission, once known only to the cognoscenti, that he was a lawyer.’
    • ‘Lord Lansdowne said the estate has only covered its losses once in the past 13 years.’
    • ‘Once only a few precious Yuppies had cellphones, now every burglar has at least one mobile.’
    • ‘Christopher has been to York only once before, ironically when he had another injury.’
    • ‘Working on this is something that happens only once in an archaeologist's lifetime.’
    • ‘They are huge missiles that should only be used in properly managed public displays.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Some companies, sticking to the rule book, only give notice once every three years.’
    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’
      • ‘Kenneth is only 17 and was hardly made for the job of shadowing one as elusive as Bellamy.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But this does not imply that the track sprinter can get by with training only a few days a week.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘One of the animals shot was a lamb that was only three hours old, along with cows that were in calf.’
      • ‘Until the 1930s, the life expectancy of a baby with the disease was only a few months.’
      • ‘We are a small special school and a decline in only a small number of children can affect the budget.’
      • ‘As a group, the San have declined in numbers and only a very few now live in the Kalahari.’
      • ‘The Spanish figure of only 100 is hardly credible and should be the stuff of scandal.’
  • 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’
      • ‘He used not to have comments, and I only discovered that he'd got them going this week.’
      • ‘The two friends only discovered Jake had a painful condition after picking him up in Bolton.’
      • ‘However, Heather discovered the present only a couple of days later and unwrapped it.’
      • ‘It was only when Tessa, barely out of her teens, was in a car crash that the truth surfaced.’
      • ‘It is only later that the investor discovers that the wine is far less valuable than they were led to believe.’
      • ‘She became stuck on a narrow ledge and was only rescued after the fire brigade was called out.’
      • ‘He only discovered her duplicity when he found a marriage certificate in her handbag.’
      • ‘His son finds out and it is only at the end of the play we discover the tragedy that results.’
      • ‘I only discovered this disturbing news when we met to talk about her new position.’
      • ‘However the tickets never arrived and she only discovered she had won when she saw her name in the paper.’
      • ‘The company only discovered the mistake when irate bus users rang to complain yesterday.’
      • ‘It was only then I discovered they had, in fact, been trying to break into the vestry.’
      • ‘The club had an air to it, as though it had only recently discovered the miracle of electricity.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The final wreck in our trilogy of paddle steamers has only recently been discovered.’
      • ‘Police told the court that it was only after close examination that they discovered it was a replica.’
      • ‘Wei Hui only discovered this when she phoned her publisher to discuss royalties.’
      • ‘Police suspicions were only raised when they discovered he had a travelcard in a third name.’
      • ‘Megson and his advisers only discovered Imerman was involved at the eleventh hour.’
      • ‘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’
    • ‘I kicked myself and headed down to the office, only to discover that it was closed for the siesta.’
    • ‘I went up to my locker, only to discover that the lock was missing and half my books were gone.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Two men wake in a large filthy bathroom only to discover they are chained to opposite walls.’
    • ‘One day he stole a car, took off and returned only to find the cops were on to his scam.’
    • ‘He has often arrived back in Aberdeen at one in the morning only to be on the hospital ward five hours later.’
    • ‘Rivers and lakes can dry up during hot seasons so you can have a great tip only to arrive to find a mud bowl!’
    • ‘He immediately set off in his car, only to be deliberately driven off the road by another car.’
    • ‘My doctor gets miffed when taking my blood pressure only to discover that it is fine.’
    • ‘The team spent all this time exploring new avenues, only to arrive back at their starting point.’
    • ‘We all rushed for the boat when it arrived only to be told it was going round the lake.’
    • ‘At a barbecue men insist on cooking, only to discover that they're still rubbish at it.’
    • ‘She plucked off her blindfold only to discover the blushing footman she had just embraced!’
    • ‘He said a prototype car had been run round inside the factory only to be destroyed in a fire.’
    • ‘Years later, he tried to call his boyfriend from his home in Oval, only to discover he was in prison.’
    • ‘How must it feel to arrive at the door of a country only to find it slammed in your face?’
    • ‘So then we decided we wanted to see some of the attractions, only to find you had to have a car to do most.’
    • ‘After we went to see a car at the Showroom were I work, only to find another couple looking at it.’
    • ‘I spit the fish out into my hand, only to discover the cracked remains of not one, but both caps.’
    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’
      • ‘It will not alter patient care and will only make money for private companies.’
      • ‘Billy finally realises that without massive investment the club will only get worse.’
      • ‘If they keep paying Mr Garland the above amount things will only get worse before they get better.’
      • ‘If a man doesn't want to call on Monday, then why make an arrangement to, when it will only be broken?’
      • ‘Is liberty a price worth paying, for a security that will only fuel our feelings of insecurity?’
      • ‘It will only create more problems, the same ones we have at the Mannington Roundabout.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Now Mrs Pratley, a lettings manager, fears it will only be a matter of time before her son has a fall.’
      • ‘If the real problem is not addressed, then the plaster will only hide the rot.’
      • ‘Continuing to falsely condemn Israel in knee jerk fashion will only hasten that outcome.’
      • ‘Further delay would only prolong the agony of dozens of families and can have no justification.’

adjective

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

    ‘the only medal we had ever won’
    ‘he was an only child’
    • ‘The puppy and three cats were the only animals abandoned over the festive period.’
    • ‘As the only rower she was in the single sculls and again won a silver medal.’
    • ‘The only drawback was the huge noise these animals created, it scared the life out of the baby.’
    • ‘The only reason animals are allowed to travel so far to slaughter is financial.’
    • ‘The pair are Britain's best and possibly only hope for a medal in badminton in Athens.’
    • ‘In fact the only animal that would survive is the pig as it can eat just about anything.’
    • ‘The only reason for eating animals and fish is that we wish to indulge our palates.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Elephants are the only animals in Africa that dig deep holes in search of water.’
    • ‘This is not only the best single book on the subject but a model of how military history ought to be written.’
    • ‘It's always a good sign when you can recognise almost every single track from only one repeat.’
    • ‘In all but the simplest animals, the cells of the germ line are the only cells that can give rise to a new organism.’
    • ‘So far, it has remained a purely veterinary war and the only casualties are animals.’
    • ‘The only thing left of the organic code will be animals, probably lower animals.’
    • ‘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 moments she is alone in the screen are there ones in which we can watch her suffer form abstinence.’
    • ‘However, we are the only animal on this planet that can successfully do all of them.’
    • ‘My single photograph and Brian's two or three are the only ones we managed to get.’
    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’
      • ‘For many years, women considered showing cleavage to be the only way to look sexy.’
      • ‘Are words that say precisely what you want to hear the only way to measure anything?’
      • ‘After some consideration, she decided that her only choice was to report it to the police.’
      • ‘The sports bits are the only parts of the Today programme worth listening to.’
      • ‘It is not the case that the only alternative to keeping animals in a zoo is euthanasia.’
      • ‘There will be many who consider that the only fitting punishment for them would be a custodial one.’
      • ‘Indeed, it sometimes seems like love stories are the only stories worth telling.’
      • ‘When trying to consider the medium as an artistic one it's really the only factor to be considered.’
      • ‘Are High Street dealers tied to a single manufacturer the only place to buy new?’
      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’
      • ‘So often you see club golfers arriving in a rush, only just in time for their tee-off.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘At the moment I'm earning a very basic wage, only just enough to keep going.’
      • ‘It might have been spring, but only just barely, and winter was still clinging to the town of Stancorrie.’
      • ‘Get back to water they did, but only just, and Stuart, his men and horses were lucky to escape.’
      • ‘The passage here is so narrow that the big male can only just squeeze through.’
      • ‘Though only just due to earthquakes and typhoons, but like Gloria Gaynor, we have survived.’
      • ‘The road has been made so narrow in places that buses and lorries can only just get through.’
      • ‘With just seconds to spare, Anelka only just escaped a £120 bill and being towed away.’
      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’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘I transferred a grand to my UK account recently and it only just put me back in the black.’
        • ‘She had only just arrived in this country from Jamaica and was due to start primary school this week.’
        • ‘We had appalling service and replacement kitchen units have only just arrived.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘Fr Jim was at home on holidays recently and has only just returned to his Kenyan base.’
  • 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’
      • ‘As with scores of book-lovers, book sellers are only too happy to carry the credit.’
      • ‘You really need to talk with someone about this, and your best friend or favorite sibling will be only too happy to listen.’
      • ‘It is only too convenient to pose for photo opportunities and political points.’
      • ‘Being an inveterate gambler, the fourth son was only too glad to accept the offer.’
      • ‘Rebecca seemed only too glad to do so, as she seemed also to want to sit by this newcomer.’
      • ‘Agents are only too glad to employ former players for their contacts in the game.’
      • ‘The builders are only too happy to tell them what they want to hear.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘By that time a number of landlords were only too glad to sell up and be expropriated.’
      • ‘The audience liked it and I was flooded with questions which I was only too happy to answer.’

Origin

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

Pronunciation

only

/ˈōnlē//ˈoʊnli/