Meaning of ONLY in English

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.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.