(?) I ran to the station, but only to find that the train had already left.

8769

Senior Member
Japanese and Japan
I understand #1 below is grammatically correct and natural English.

How about #2? Is it grammatically correct and natural English,too?
1. I ran to the station, only to find that the train had already left.

2. I ran to the station, but only to find that the train had already left.
 
  • Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I understand #1 below is grammatically correct and natural English.


    How about #2? Is it grammatically correct and natural English,too?
    1. I ran to the station, only to find that the train had already left.
    2. I ran to the station, but only to find that the train had already left.
    No, it isn't. "only" precludes the necessity to further qualify the second part of the sentence.
     

    8769

    Senior Member
    Japanese and Japan
    Thank you, Dimcl.
    ... "only" precludes the necessity to further qualify the second part of the sentence.
    Sorry I don't understand you correctly. Does "the second part of the sentence" mean the "only to find that the train had already left" part? Could you explain it in an easier way for me again?
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Here's the definition from Dictionary.com:

    conjunction 8.but (introducing a single restriction, restraining circumstance, or the like): I would have gone, only you objected.

    "only" is the linkage between the two parts of the sentence. You could replace "only" with "but". Putting both in the sentence is incorrect because "only" serves the same purpose as "but" in this context.
     

    8769

    Senior Member
    Japanese and Japan
    Thank you, dimcl, for your second explanation.

    Now I understand you. It helps me a lot.
     

    qizi

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Hello, is this sentence correct?
    When I came back, I opened the cage but only to find that they did not fly out.
    I googled "but only to find that" and found more than 5 million results.
     

    Waylink

    Senior Member
    English (British)
    qizi

    In a particular context, [ but only ... ] may be OK.

    Can you give some examples of where you think that it is necessary to have both words together?

    Grammatically, it is NOT necessary or appropriate to use both but and only in the sentence:
    I ran to the station, but only to find that the train had already left.

    As already explained, in this context [ but ] and [ only ] are alternatives to each other and mean the same thing. Using both together would be redundant.

    However, sometimes (often as a matter of style) some redundancies are used for emphasis - perhaps here to emphasise the contrast.

    e.g. I pushed him off the bridge into the river but only to save him from being hit by the speeding truck.
     

    qizi

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you, Waylink. Here is an additional sentence that I wrote. One day, a colleague told me that the birds could be let out and that instead of flying away, they would return to their home at night. When I came back, I opened the cage but only to find that they did not fly out.
    I was wondering if this could be considered a contrast and thus "but" could be used.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Hello, is this sentence correct?
    When I came back, I opened the cage but only to find that they did not fly out.
    I googled "but only to find that" and found more than 5 million results.
    Same structure as in the initial sentence.
    If Dimcl is right, then it is incorrect.

    Only, I'm not sure only is really a conjunction in these sentences. (as it is here :))

    Here's a link to the Free Online Dictionary
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/only

    adv.
    (...)
    b. With the final result; nevertheless: received a raise only to be laid off.
    (...)
    conj.
    (...)
    a. With the restriction that; but: You may go, only be careful.
    b. However; and yet: The merchandise is well made, only we can't use it
    . (emphasis added).
    Apparently, we're dealing with an adverb rather than a conjunction.

    Therefore, I don't think it's excellent English but I wouldn't say it's plain incorrect either.

    I'd like to know what natives (and especially Dimcl) think.

    PS; Hadn't seen Waylink's answer.
     
    Last edited:

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Google is a very large and strange place and you need to have some perspective on the vast numbers it sometimes comes up with. Googling:
    "but only to find that"
    does show 13.7 million hits and paging forward a few times it sticks to that estimate. However, Googling to find "only to find that" without "but" in this manner:
    "only to find that" -"but only to find that"
    initially shows 89.9 million hits and paging forward changes the estimate to 213 million hits so the ratio of the "but" to "no but" hits is about 0.06.
    In my experience, it is not hard to find bizarre, mistaken versions of common phrases for which the ratio to the correct version is 0.20 - 0.30, so I wouldn't be surprised to find a "wrong" version of "only to find that" that got 60 million hits.
    In other words, given the huge number of times that "only to find that" is used that it is almost surprising that it is used "incorrectly" so few times (13.7 million being a relatively small number in comparison).
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    Tlhere is a difference between the two sentences.

    I ran . . . only to find . . . = I ran to the station, but when I got there I discovered that the train had already left.
    I ran . . . but only to find . . . = The only reason I ran to the station was to find that the train had already left; I did not run to it for any other reason (such as to catch the train).

    The second sentence describes some bizarre behavior, but the structure could be used for more sensible scenarios:

    I ran to the station, but only because I needed some exercise. Implied: and not because I was in a hurry to get there, in fear of missing my train, etc.—the usual reason one would run toward a train station.
     
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