I'm pretty sure you've used this word at least once in your daily conversations. Well, I'm here to tell you all about it.

How to Use "Only" in English

'Only' functions as both an adverb and an adjective. In this lesson, we will discuss how to learn and use it.

Functions of 'Only'

  • Adjective
  • Adverb

'Only' as an Adjective

As stated above, 'only' can be an adjective. Below, we will learn about the different kinds of adjectives it is:

'Only' as an Attributive Adjective

'Only' can be an attributive adjective. It indicates that there is one person or thing. Look at the examples below:

He is the only child.

So, you mean the only way to convince you is to give you pasta?

Position in a Sentence

Since 'only' is an attributive adjective here, it mainly comes before nouns and modifies them. Check out the examples below:

The only message I got from you was this.

It seems that the only thing she could do was watch me hurt myself.

'Only' as an Adverb

'Only' can function as an adverb, too. Below, we are going to discuss the different kinds of adverbs it is:

'Only' as an Adverb of Degree

'Only' functions as an adverb of degree to indicate no more is included. Look at the following examples:

Not to worry, though. It was only a spider.

Stop suppressing your feelings when they're only trying to warn you.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'only' is an adverb, it mainly comes before verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs to modify them. We can also have it at the end of our sentence. Check out the following examples:

This room is for women only.

A : I'm going to bed.

B : But it's only 8 o'clock.

'Only' as an Adverb of Manner

'Only' can also be an adverb of manner. We can use it to show that something terrible will happen, and we can also use it to show how someone feels bad about something that will not happen. Check out the examples below:

If Sarah doesn't do something about her, she will only lose more money.

If only I could get my own place and settle.

Position in a Sentence

Since it is an adverb of manner, it mainly comes before verbs to show the manner of the action. Look below:

I'm telling you. This will only end in her leaving you.

I only wish everything happened the way I wanted them to.


We can sometimes use 'only' before an adverb of time to indicate that an action has taken place recently. Check out the examples below:

I heard what had happened only minutes ago.

Note that 'only' cannot remain on its own in such sentences.

It feels like they were here only yesterday.

Idioms and Expressions

We have a few idioms and expressions with 'only' in English that we are going to discuss them below:

  • If only: We use this one to indicate that something terrible can be prevented if something happens:

She wouldn't have these mental problems if only she had listened to me.

If only Robert stopped being so stubborn, I'm sure he could handle everything.

  • Only to do something: We use this one to indicate one is surprised or shocked about something:

So, you came here only to say hello?

Hannah said she'd come back only to grab her bag.


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