If we knew how to use ONLY

Use of only in grammar

If there’s one misplaced modifier that drives me nuts, I’d say it’s ONLY. With the National Grammar Day on March 4, I thought I’ll share the common mistakes people make while using this word and mind you! we use ONLY every time.

When ONLY is used incorrectly, it makes hard for the listener (or reader) to understand the real meaning of the sentence. Let’s consider the following sentence:

The team ONLY scored ten runs in the first three overs.

To many, this sentence is correct – almost prefect. I don’t blame them because the mistake is so subtle. However, with my grammar OCD, this sentence sounds so unpleasant.

Let me give you the rule to use ONLY before we get into identifying the problem with the sentence. The simple rule is to use ONLY as close as possible to the word it modifies. Now in the sentence above ONLY is used with scored, thus it modifies that word. The sentence then means that the team did not do anything else (run, hit, etc.) in the first three overs, but ONLY SCORED.

You know; however, what the writer wanted to say, right? The right message is that the team scored ONLY TEN runs in the first three overs – not 20 or 8 runs. So, the word ONLY should be used as close as possible to the word it modifies – in this case ten.

Take a look at the following examples and judge for yourself:

– ONLY Neil hit Charlie in the leg.
– Neil ONLY hit Charlie in the leg.
– Neil hit ONLY Charlie in the leg.
– Neil hit Charlie ONLY in the leg.

I’m sure you now know these four sentences mean different – or do you still need explanation?


#10 Uninterested or disinterested?

I can see how interchangeably ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ are used, but the words are very different.

If you are not interested in (or are bored by) something, you’re uninterested. If you do not have a personal stake in something (or are neutral or impartial), you’re disinterested.

John was yawning because he was uninterested in the lecture.
Never think your ex-wife will be disinterested in what you do. 🙂


#9 Diagramming sentences

Diagramming sentences – a pictorial representation of language. A beautiful art worth exploring!

diagramming sentences


#8 Verb strength

Verbs are the strongest when used in simple past or present tense. These tenses let you reveal the action and the doer without using many words.

Harry sleeps late



#7 Confusing modifiers

Best way to use modifiers is to place them near the word/s they modify.
Thus, ‘Only I love Harry’ is different from ‘I love only Harry’.


#6 Ain’t – the four-letter word

Just like you aren’t is the negative contraction for you are, I ain’t is for I am not. [Read the detailed article.]

#5 Make your referents clear

Have your readers understood ‘that’, ‘this’, ‘it’, etc. you’ve used in your text? Don’t let your readers pause to identify what such words are referring to; make the context clear.

#4 Write for the people

Your audience comprises people, not subjects. Study your target audience before creating your content.

#3 Build engagement

Help your customers create content on social media. Great strategy to build revenue and engagement.

social networks written on world map

Photo credit: FrameAngel, FreeDigitalPhotos.net


#2 Peer review

If you desire for your writing to improve, go for peer reviews.
many eyes looking at a paper