Position of 'only'

G.Determinism

Senior Member
Persian
Greetings,

Could you please help me find the right position of the adverb 'only' in the following examples.

1. Today, we're only open until midday.
2. Today, we're open only until miday.
3. Today, we're open until midday only.
 
  • Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    #1 is grammatically incorrect. #2 and #3 are fine, except that "midday" is misspelled in #2. And at least in the US, "midday" wouldn't be used, because it's too vague. ("Midday" may mean noon to one person, 1 p.m. to another.) A specific time would be given, e.g.: "only until 1 p.m."

    BE may be different.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I share Parla's preference for placing 'only' before the word it modifies. If 'only' comes before a verb, I understand it as modifying the verb. The Usage note for only explains this:

    Usage: The placement of only as a modifier is more a matter of style and clarity than of grammatical rule.
    [....]
    Especially in formal writing, the placement of 'only' immediately before what it modifies is often observed:
    She sold the stock only because she needed the money.​
    However, there has long been a tendency in all varieties of speech and writing to place only before the verb (She only sold the stock because she needed the money), and such placement is rarely confusing.​

    Anyone who is interested should read the full note, which includes an example in which the placement of 'only' affects the meaning.
     
    Last edited:

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    The usage note cited by Cagey is illuminating, and it is clear that changing the position of 'only' in a sentence can change its meaning.
    There does not appear to be any danger of that in the present example, though.

    Also, it isn't necessarily the case that 'only' always just modifies one word. It can modify a group of words, and here I think we can regard "open until midday" as such a group.
     
    I once went into a Publix supermarket in Florida to buy beer. A notice said ALCOHOL ONLY SOLD ON SUNDAY AFTER 10 A.M.

    I was so disappointed: it was only Friday and I hadn't time to wait.
    icon_cry.gif
     
    Agreed. And let's be clear that IF the meaning changes, no particular placement can be called 'incorrect' without knowledge of the speaker's intentions.

    The usage note cited by Cagey is illuminating, and it is clear that changing the position of 'only' in a sentence can change its meaning.
    There does not appear to be any danger of that in the present example, though.

    Also, it isn't necessarily the case that 'only' always just modifies one word. It can modify a group of words, and here I think we can regard "open until midday" as such a group.
     
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