I. on ‧ ly 1 S1 W1 /ˈəʊnli $ ˈoʊn-/ BrE AmE adverb
1 . not more than a particular number, age etc:
Naomi was only 17 when she got married.
There are only a few cars on the island.
It’s only eight o'clock.
2 . used to say that something or someone is not very important, serious etc:
It was only a joke.
It’s an interesting job, but it’s only temporary.
They’re only small cuts, nothing life-threatening.
3 . nothing or no one except a particular person or thing:
Only the president can authorize a nuclear attack.
We use only the best ingredients.
women/men/residents etc only
The car park is for staff only.
4 . used to say that something happens or is possible in one particular situation or place and no others, or for one particular reason:
I’ll tell you, but only if you don’t tell anyone else.
I ate the food, but only because I was starving.
The transfer takes place only when the data is complete.
You can put a phrase or clause beginning with only first, to emphasize it. You put the subject after an auxiliary in the main clause:
Only in London did I find a purpose in life.
Only by changing themselves can organizations continue to succeed.
5 . no earlier than a particular time
only yesterday/last week/recently
‘When did you email her?’ ‘Only yesterday.’
only then did/would/could etc somebody do something (=at that moment and not before)
Only then did she tell him about the attack.
6 . only just British English
a) a very short time ago:
She’s only just got up.
b) almost not SYN barely :
I only just finished my essay in time.
7 . can only hope/wait etc used to say that it is not possible to do more than hope etc:
We can only hope it won’t rain on the day.
8 . I can only think/suppose/assume (that) spoken used when you are giving a reason for something, to say that you do not know something for certain but think that this is the only possible reason:
I can only assume that it was a mistake.
9 . I only wish/hope spoken used to express a strong wish or hope:
‘What’s happening?’ ‘I only wish I knew.’
10 . if only spoken used to express a strong wish:
If only he’d call!
11 . you’ll only spoken used to tell someone that what they want to do will have a bad effect:
Don’t interfere – you’ll only make things worse.
12 . you only have to read/look at/listen to etc something spoken used to say that it is easy to know that something is true because you can see or hear things that prove it:
You only have to look at the statistics to see that things are getting worse.
13 . only to used to say that someone did something, with a disappointing or surprising result:
I arrived only to find that the others had already left.
14 . only too very:
Prices have risen sharply, as we know only too well.
Mark was only too happy to agree with her.
⇨ not only ... but (also) at ↑ not (4), ⇨ only have eyes for somebody at ↑ eye 1 (32), ⇨ for sb’s eyes only at ↑ eye 1 (25)
II. only 2 S1 W1 BrE AmE adjective [only before noun]
[ Language: Old English ; Origin: anlic , from an ; ⇨ ↑ one 3 ]
1 . used to say that there is one person, thing, or group in a particular situation and no others:
I was the only woman there.
He is our only child.
I was the only one who disagreed.
Cutting costs is the only solution.
She’s the only person for this job.
2 . the only thing/problem is ... spoken used when you are going to mention a problem or disadvantage:
I could take you. The only thing is Dan might need the car.
3 . an only child a child who has no brothers or sisters ⇨ the one and only at ↑ one 4 (2), ⇨ (only) time will tell at ↑ time 1 (36)
III. only 3 BrE AmE conjunction spoken
used like ‘but’ to give the reason why something is not possible SYN except (that) :
I’d offer to help, only I’m really busy just now.