[ ohn-lee ]
See synonyms for: onlyonliest on

  1. without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively: This information is for your eyes only.

  2. no more than; merely; just: If it were only true!I cook only on weekends, never on weekdays.

  1. as recently as: I read that article only yesterday.

  2. in the final outcome or decision: You will only regret your harsh words to me.

  1. being the single one or the relatively few of the kind: This is the only pencil I can find.

  2. having no sibling or no sibling of the same gender: Although I had lots of cousins, I was an only child.He was their only son, but they had three daughters

  1. single in superiority or distinction; unique; the best: the one and only Muhammad Ali.

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

  2. Older Use. except; but: Only for him you would not be here.

Idioms about only

  1. only too,

Origin of only

First recorded before 900; Middle English; Old English ānlich, ǣnlich; see one, -ly

usage note For only

The placement of only as a modifier is more a matter of style and clarity than of grammatical rule. In a sentence like The doctor examined the children, varying the placement of only results in quite different meanings: The doctor only examined the children means that the doctor did nothing else. And The doctor examined only the children means that no one else was examined. 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.

Other words for only

Opposites for only

Words Nearby only Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use only in a sentence

  • In Captain Joseph Pelham's mind there was only-one answer to this question,—that the lad should come to him.

    By The Sea | Heman White Chaplin
  • In the first place the boys all spoke to him in that specially offensive you're-only-a-little-kid sort of way.

    War and the Weird | Forbes Phillips
  • He called Murgatroyd, placed him before the communicator, and set it at voice-only transmission.

    Pariah Planet | Murray Leinster
  • If I had only had a pistol I would have shot him, but boy scouts don't carry pistols-only in crazy story books.

    Roy Blakely, Pathfinder | Percy Keese Fitzhugh
  • She'd be hopeless in a sick-room; and this is a real keep-your-distance, Sundays-only sick-room, ain't it, Sarah Gamp?

    The Honour of the Clintons | Archibald Marshall

British Dictionary definitions for only


/ (ˈəʊnlɪ) /

  1. the only being single or very few in number: the only men left in town were too old to bear arms

  2. (of a child) having no siblings

  1. unique by virtue of being superior to anything else; peerless

  2. one and only

    • (adjective) incomparable; unique

    • (as noun) the object of all one's love: you are my one and only

  1. without anyone or anything else being included; alone: you have one choice only; only a genius can do that

  2. merely or just: it's only Henry

  1. no more or no greater than: we met only an hour ago

  2. Irish (intensifier): she was only marvellous; it was only dreadful

  3. used in conditional clauses introduced by if to emphasize the impossibility of the condition ever being fulfilled: if I had only known, this would never have happened

  4. not earlier than; not…until: I only found out yesterday

  5. if only an expression used to introduce a wish, esp one felt to be unrealizable

  6. only if never…except when

  7. only too

    • (intensifier): he was only too pleased to help

    • most regrettably (esp in the phrase only too true)

sentence connector
  1. but; however: used to introduce an exception or condition: play outside: only don't go into the street

Origin of only

Old English ānlīc, from ān one + -līc -ly ²

usage For only

In informal English, only is often used as a sentence connector: I would have phoned you, only I didn't know your number. This use should be avoided in formal writing: I would have phoned you if I'd known your number. In formal speech and writing, only is placed directly before the word or words that it modifies: she could interview only three applicants in the morning. In all but the most formal contexts, however, it is generally regarded as acceptable to put only before the verb: she could only interview three applicants in the morning. Care must be taken not to create ambiguity, esp in written English, in which intonation will not, as it does in speech, help to show to which item in the sentence only applies. A sentence such as she only drinks tea in the afternoon is capable of two interpretations and is therefore better rephrased either as she drinks only tea in the afternoon (i.e. no other drink) or she drinks tea only in the afternoon (i.e. at no other time)

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with only


In addition to the idioms beginning with only

  • only game in town, the
  • only too

also see:

  • beauty is only skin deep
  • have an eye (eyes only) for
  • if only
  • in name only
  • not the only fish in the sea
  • one and only

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.