Meaning of ONLY in English

I. ˈōn-lē adjective

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English ānlīc, from ān one — more at one

Date: before 12th century

1. : unquestionably the best : peerless


a. : alone in a class or category : sole

the only one left

the only known species

b. : having no brother or sister

an only child

3. : few

one of the only areas not yet explored

II. adverb

Date: 14th century


a. : as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different : merely

has only lost one election — George Orwell

b. : solely , exclusively

known only to him

2. : at the very least

it was only too true


a. : in the final outcome

will only make you sick

b. : with nevertheless the final result

won the battles, only to lose the war


a. : as recently as : not before

only last week

only in the last year did she get recognition

b. : in the immediate past

only just talked to her


The placement of only in a sentence has been a source of studious commentary since the 18th century, most of it intended to prove by force of argument that prevailing standard usage is wrong. After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.

III. conjunction

Date: 14th century


a. : with the restriction that : but

you may go, only come back early

b. : and yet : however

they look very nice, only we can't use them

2. : were it not that : except

I'd introduce you to her, only you'd win her — Jack London

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate English vocabulary.      Энциклопедический словарь английского языка Merriam Webster.