[ ohn-lee ]
/ ˈoʊn li /




but (introducing a single restriction, restraining circumstance, or the like): I would have gone, only you objected.
Older Use. except; but: Only for him you would not be here.


    only too,
    1. as a matter of fact; extremely: I am only too glad to go.
    2. unfortunately; very: It is only too likely to happen.

Origin of only

before 900; Middle English; Old English ānlich, ǣnlich. See one, -ly



Usage note

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. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for only too


/ (ˈəʊnlɪ) /

adjective (prenominal)


sentence connector

but; however: used to introduce an exception or conditionplay outside: only don't go into the street

Word Origin for only

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


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

Idioms and Phrases with only too (1 of 2)

only too


At the very least, as a matter of fact, as in I know only too well that I can't win the lottery. This usage was first recorded in 1817.


Very, extremely, as in I am only too glad to help. This usage was first recorded in 1899.

Idioms and Phrases with only too (2 of 2)


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.