Usage of the Word Only


SBL Handbook of Style

Although the SBLHS blog does not often venture into issues of English composition per se, correct word usage and clear sentence construction are both key components of good style and thus worthy of occasional comment. In that spirit, this modest post highlights the improper and proper placement of the word only.

Consider, for example, the following example (Bernstein 1965, 316):

I hit him in the eye yesterday.

The adjective and adverb only can legitimately be used in eight different positions in this simple sentence, producing eight different meanings.

Only I hit him in the eye yesterday.

I only hit him in the eye yesterday.

I hit only him in the eye yesterday.

I hit him only in the eye yesterday.

I hit him in only the eye yesterday.

I hit him in the only eye yesterday.

I hit him in the eye only yesterday.

I hit him in the…

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