Only if vs. If only

Muhammad Khatab

Senior Member
Classical Arabic
Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager.
I think we should use "If only" here instead of "only if" since it's a third conditional:
Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager.
Am I right?
Thanks!
 
  • london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager means that there was a condition : no apology, no job (if you see what I mean). We don't know from this sentence if he apologised or if he got his job back.

    Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager means something different, to my mind. The person speaking is lamenting the fact that Tom didn't apologise and therefore (presumably) he has lost his job.

    That said, the 'if only' sentence is still rather odd.
     

    Muhammad Khatab

    Senior Member
    Classical Arabic
    Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager means that there was a condition : no apology, no job (if you see what I mean). We don't know from this sentence if he apologised or if he got his job back.

    Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager means something different, to my mind. The person speaking is lamenting the fact that Tom didn't apologise and therefore (presumably) he has lost his job.

    That said, the 'if only' sentence is still rather odd.
    I think that the "only if" sentence is the odd one. Have a look at this, please: WISH / IF ONLY | Grammaring
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I disagree and in any case the link is about 'if only', not 'only if'

    If (only) I knew the answer, I'd tell you.
    If (only) I had revised more, I would have done better on my exam.

    If only expresses a wish or a desire. Only if means 'only on condition that' as I said above. A completely different concept.
     
    Last edited:

    Muhammad Khatab

    Senior Member
    Classical Arabic
    I disagree and in any case the link is about 'if only', not 'only if'

    If (only) I knew the answer, I'd tell you.
    If (only) I had revised more, I would have done better on my exam.

    If only expresses a wish or a desire. Only if means 'only on condition that' as i saiod above. A completely different concept.
    But "Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager." is a third conditional sentence, and it means: Tom didn't apologize, and as a result he would not be able to start work again. So the use of "only" after "if" does emphasize the result that "he would not be able to start work again".
     

    Xyz123456

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager.
    I think we should use "If only" here instead of "only if" since it's a third conditional:
    Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager.
    Am I right?
    Thanks!
    "Tom could have started work again if he had apologised to the manager" = but he didn't apologise, so he couldn't start work again.

    "Tom could have started work again ONLY if he had apologised" = the apology was the ONLY thing that could get his job back. No other action Tom carries out will get his job back.

    It's emphasising the fact that the apology (and no other action) determines whether or not he gets his job back. The second sentence makes it clear that ONLY the apology can decide what happens next.

    So here's what someone would typically say: "I will agree to come to Germany with you if you are polite. But ONLY if you are polite".

    "If only..." is never in the middle of a sentence such as the one you have.

    "My sister married a fool. If only she had waited to find a better man".

    "If only my father were still alive, but he is dead and I cannot change that fact".
     

    Muhammad Khatab

    Senior Member
    Classical Arabic
    "Tom could have started work again if he had apologised to the manager" = but he didn't apologise, so he couldn't start work again.

    "Tom could have started work again ONLY if he had apologised" = the apology was the ONLY thing that could get his job back. No other action Tom carries out will get his job back.

    It's emphasising the fact that the apology (and no other action) determines whether or not he gets his job back. The second sentence makes it clear that ONLY the apology can decide what happens next.

    So here's what someone would typically say: "I will agree to come to Germany with you if you are polite. But ONLY if you are polite".

    "If only..." is never in the middle of a sentence such as the one you have.

    "My sister married a fool. If only she had waited to find a better man".

    "If only my father were still alive, but he is dead and I cannot change that fact".
    Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager.:tick:
    Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager.:cross:
    If only Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. :tick:
    Only if Tom had apologized to the manager could he have started work again. :tick:
    Only if Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. :cross:
    But in all of these he didn't apologize; it's all about emphasis.
    Am I Right, my dear friend?
     

    Xyz123456

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    The only one that looks completely incorrect is "Only if Tom had apologised to the manager, he could have started work again". Because the order sounds as if some information is missing.

    1.Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager. = There was only ONE way for Tom to start work again: he had to apologise.

    2. If only Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. = I wish that Tom had apologised, then he could have started work again. But he didn't apologise, so I am sad about this fact.

    3. Only if Tom had apologized to the manager could he have started work again. = This is strange news! I heard that Tom has started work again! He must have apologised to the manager...yes, THAT must be what he did to get his job back.

    4. Only if Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. = This is meaningless without context as it sound like some other piece of information is missing.

    And you know what I just realised???? The best way to answer all these issues is for you to read an Agatha Christie novel!!! :) All of these cases and forms will appear in a detective story. I'm a genius ;) Yes- you need to get an Agatha Christie novel!

    And I know which one!....

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, of course!!! :)

    I'm 100% serious- all of these conditionals are cleverly used in a detective's investigation/interrogation of a suspect. And nobody writes a detective story better than Agatha Christie.

    Why didn't I think of that earlier...
     

    Muhammad Khatab

    Senior Member
    Classical Arabic
    The only one that looks completely incorrect is "Only if Tom had apologised to the manager, he could have started work again". Because the order sounds as if some information is missing.

    1.Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager. = There was only ONE way for Tom to start work again: he had to apologise.

    2. If only Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. = I wish that Tom had apologised, then he could have started work again. But he didn't apologise, so I am sad about this fact.

    3. Only if Tom had apologized to the manager could he have started work again. = This is strange news! I heard that Tom has started work again! He must have apologised to the manager...yes, THAT must be what he did to get his job back.

    4. Only if Tom had apologized to the manager, he could have started work again. = This is meaningless without context as it sound like some other piece of information is missing.

    And you know what I just realised???? The best way to answer all these issues is for you to read an Agatha Christie novel!!! :) All of these cases and forms will appear in a detective story. I'm a genius ;) Yes- you need to get an Agatha Christie novel!

    And I know which one!....

    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, of course!!! :)

    I'm 100% serious- all of these conditionals are cleverly used in a detective's investigation/interrogation of a suspect. And nobody writes a detective story better than Agatha Christie.

    Why didn't I think of that earlier...
    Thank you so much. Now I got it.:)
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Tom could have started work again only if he had apologized to the manager.
    I think we should use "If only" here instead of "only if" since it's a third conditional:
    Tom could have started work again if only he had apologized to the manager.
    Am I right?
    No.

    It means: Tom could only have started work again if he had apologized to the manager.

    If only is used to mean “even if for no other/better reason than” (Tom refused to apologize, if only because he was too proud to do so) or to imply “what a shame [something isn’t/wasn’t the case]” (If only Tom had apologized! Then he would have got his job back).

    A late contribution, without the benefit of having read all the above posts.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top