from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Alone in kind or class; sole.
  • adjective Having no siblings.
  • adjective Most suitable of all; superior or excellent.
  • adverb Without anyone or anything else; alone.
  • adverb At the very least.
  • adverb And nothing else or more; merely; just.
  • adverb Exclusively; solely.
  • adverb In the last analysis or final outcome; inevitably.
  • adverb With the negative or unfortunate result.
  • adverb As recently as.
  • adverb In the immediate past.
  • conjunction Were it not that; except that.
  • conjunction With the restriction that; but.
  • conjunction However; and yet.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Single as regards number, or as regards class or kind; one and no more or other; single; sole: as, he was the only person present; the only answer possible; an only son; my only friend; the only assignable reason.
  • Alone; nothing or nobody but.
  • Mere; simple.
  • Single in degree or excellence; hence, distinguished above or beyond all others; special.
  • Alone; no other or others than; nothing or nobody else than; nothing or nobody but; merely: as, only one remained; man cannot live on bread only.
  • No more than; merely; simply; just: as, he had sold only two.
  • In but one manner, for but one purpose, by but one means, with but one result, etc.; in no other manner, respect, place, direction, circumstances, or condition than; at no other time, or in no other way, etc., than; for no other purpose or with no other result than; solely; exclusively; entirely; altogether: as, he ventured forth only at night; he was saved only by the skin of his teeth; he escaped the gallows only to be drowned; articles sold only in packages.
  • Above all others; preëminently; especially.
  • Singly; with no other in the same relation: as, the only begotten Son of the Father.
  • Synonyms 1-3. Alone, Only. See alone.
  • But; except; excepting that.
  • Except; with the exception of.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • conjunction Save or except (that); -- an adversative used elliptically with or without that, and properly introducing a single fact or consideration.
  • adverb In one manner or degree; for one purpose alone; simply; merely; barely.
  • adverb So and no otherwise; no other than; exclusively; solely; wholly.
  • adverb Singly; without more.
  • adverb obsolete Above all others; particularly.
  • adjective One alone; single
  • adjective Alone in its class; by itself; not associated with others of the same class or kind.
  • adjective Alone, by reason of superiority; preëminent; chief.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Alone in a category.
  • adjective Singularly superior; the best.
  • adjective Without sibling; without a sibling of the same gender.
  • adjective obsolete Mere.
  • adverb without others or anything further; exclusively
  • adverb no more than; just
  • adverb as recently as
  • conjunction Under the condition that; but.
  • conjunction However.
  • conjunction But for the fact that; except.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adverb in the final outcome


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Old English ānlīc : ān, one; see one + -līc, having the form of; see –ly.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English ǣnlīċ, from Germanic; corresponding to one + -ly/-like. Cognate with Swedish enlig ("unified"), and obsolete Dutch eenlijk.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word only.


  • Martha only barely concealed her disgust when she said “this is the _only_ cookbook of mine that you have?”

    Regretsy – April Fool 2010

  • And the proposition that not only every planet is bright apparently extends a categorical proposition, via the elements indicated with ˜not™ and ˜only™.

    Logical Form Pietroski, Paul 2009

  • An e-mail sent to Hilderbran from DPS states that “only computer forensics officials must be licensed under the Private Security Act” and that those who only retrieve information from computer databases and pass it on to another person are not subject to the new law.

    Texas Law Probably Does Not Require PI License To Fix Spyware-Infested Computers - The Consumerist 2008

  • The error you made is that only five percent of those have race as the *only* requirement.

    Althouse coffeehouse. Ann Althouse 2007

  • The only problem I have now is that I have a bit, and *only* a bit and not a useful enough amount, of an auditory chameleonic trait, and so listening to ten hours of Lenny Henry now means I catch myself today occasionally slipping into a faux-Caribbean accent.

    mammothbooks, acoustic Aphex Twin, vampire v. werewolf, Anansiaudio badger 2006

  • The DOE would provide funds, starting at $10M only for companies affiliated to large automakers and * only* for hybrid vehicles.

    Tesla Wants A Piece Of The Hypothetical Auto Bailout Fund Michael Arrington 2005

  • The DOE would provide funds, starting at $10M only for companies affiliated to large automakers and * only* for hybrid vehicles.

    Tesla Wants A Piece Of The Hypothetical Auto Bailout Fund Michael Arrington 2005

  • There is occasional motion picture footage (a couple uninteresting complete shots of some airport arrival or departure which would be shown for only two seconds in a judiciously edited documentary.), and the * only* music one hears is about 30 seconds of "Around and Around" in front of that froofy curtain (is this PD stuff YET?).

    FAQ: Welcome to the Rolling Stones' Mailing list FAQ list Version 1.08 1994

  • But only now was he able to generate enough pressure to get his order implemented but only~ up to a point.


  • Not only are the priests of Rome deprived by the devil of the _only_ remedy which God has given to help them to stand up, but they have, in the confessional, the greatest facility which can possibly be imagined for satisfying all the bad propensities of fallen human nature.

    The Priest, The Woman And The Confessional Father Chiniquy


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  • Commonplace usage is fairly loose, and by and large context helps out; arguably each of these means something different:

    Only he died yesterday. (Everyone else survived.)

    He only died yesterday. (He did nothing else besides.)

    He died only yesterday. (So recently.)

    He died yesterday only. (Not twice.)

    I think in practice the second would usually be taken to mean the same thing as the third, though.

    January 14, 2009

  • I've heard (and have probably used in casual speech) the word "only" to mean "except" or "but": "I'd call him, only he died yesterday." I wonder whether that's regional?

    January 14, 2009

  • No, it's usual enough (WordNet #5; edit: and with O.E.D. citations from c1384 to 2001); but in my examples there's no preceding sentence or clause to give context like that.

    It does add further complexity, doesn't it?

    January 15, 2009

  • This description of where to place "only" in a sentence is one of my pet editing peeves. The example I've given before is:

    He told her he loved her.

    You could insert "only" before each one of those words and change the meaning of the sentence, thus:

    Only he told her he loved her. (No one else told her)

    He only told her he loved her. (He didn't really mean it)

    He told only her he loved her. (He told no one else)

    He told her only that he loved her. (He didn't tell her anything else)

    He told her that only he loved her. (He told her no one else loved her)

    He told her that he only loved her. (He didn't respect her, for example)

    He told her that he loved only her. (He told her he didn't love anyone else)

    When you think about the placement of "only" in this manner, it brings new meaning to phrases like "For your eyes only."

    January 15, 2009

  • I agree with you, C_b; that's something I deal with a lot as a copy-editor. But of course, when "only" begins a clause, it can also mean "were it not for the fact that":

    She would have turned around and walked out there and then, only he told her he loved her.

    January 15, 2009

  • Well, in that case, just as in the case reesetee and VO were talking about, it kind of has to be placed where it is. I guess I should have clarified that my beef is with the careless placement of the word, with no regard for how it changes the meaning.

    Another caveat: in spoken informal speech, it's not a big deal at all. Usually inflection and emphasis, and context (as VO pointed out) make it clear what's meant. But in writing, it's not always clear.

    January 15, 2009

  • Only I know that.

    January 15, 2009

  • Reading the (excellent) analysis on this page, I see a parallel between the usage of "only" and the usage of "not". I'm heading over to not to post my thoughts. Care to join me?

    January 15, 2009