Definition of only in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈōnlē/


1And no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively: there are only a limited number of tickets available only their faith sustained them
More example sentences
  • She says they have only met once since, to try to sort out the divorce arrangements.
  • In two of the cases, he had never met them and in the other had met the girl only once.
  • This is just their sixth ever meeting and only once has a match consisted of less then three goals.
exclusively, solely, to the exclusion of everything else
1.1No more than (implying that more was hoped for or expected); merely: deaths from heart disease have only declined by 10 percent she was still only in her mid-thirties
More example sentences
  • We are a small special school and a decline in only a small number of children can affect the budget.
  • Until the 1930s, the life expectancy of a baby with the disease was only a few months.
  • As a group, the San have declined in numbers and only a very few now live in the Kalahari.
merely, simply, just
1.2No longer ago than: genes that were discovered only last year
More example sentences
  • This was discovered only a fortnight ago by Milngavie Primary School near Glasgow.
  • The museum itself is built right on the site of a Viking settlement, discovered only a few years ago.
1.3Not until: a final report reached him only on January 15
More example sentences
  • Wei Hui only discovered this when she phoned her publisher to discuss royalties.
  • However, Heather discovered the present only a couple of days later and unwrapped it.
  • Megson and his advisers only discovered Imerman was involved at the eleventh hour.
2 [with infinitive] With the negative or unfortunate result that: she turned into the parking car, only to find her way blocked
More example sentences
  • The team spent all this time exploring new avenues, only to arrive back at their starting point.
  • It was a similar story at St Aidan's where parents arrived at the cordon only to be turned away.
  • We all rushed for the boat when it arrived only to be told it was going round the lake.
2.1 [with modal] Inevitably, although unfortunate or undesirable: if banks canceled the debts, these countries would only borrow more rebellion will only bring more unhappiness
More example sentences
  • Further delay would only prolong the agony of dozens of families and can have no justification.
  • Continuing to falsely condemn Israel in knee jerk fashion will only hasten that outcome.
  • If the real problem is not addressed, then the plaster will only hide the rot.


1Alone of its or their kind; single or solitary: the only medal we had ever won he was an only child
More example sentences
  • It's always a good sign when you can recognise almost every single track from only one repeat.
  • This is not only the best single book on the subject but a model of how military history ought to be written.
  • The only reason animals are allowed to travel so far to slaughter is financial.
sole, single, one (and only), solitary, lone, unique;
1.1Alone deserving consideration: it’s simply the only place to be seen these days
More example sentences
  • There will be many who consider that the only fitting punishment for them would be a custodial one.
  • When trying to consider the medium as an artistic one it's really the only factor to be considered.
  • For many years, women considered showing cleavage to be the only way to look sexy.


Except that; but for the fact that: he is still a young man, only he seems older because of his careworn expression


In normal, everyday English, the tendency is to place only as early as possible in the sentence, generally just before the verb, and the result is rarely ambiguous. Misunderstandings are possible, however, and grammarians have debated the matter for more than two hundred years. Advice varies, but in general, ambiguity is less likely if only is placed as close as is naturally possible to the word(s) to be modified or emphasized. I saw her only once stresses the single instance; I only saw her once leaves it unclear whether she was heard (or otherwise perceived) in addition to being seen.



only just

By a very small margin; almost not: the building survived the earthquake, but only just
More example sentences
  • Though only just due to earthquakes and typhoons, but like Gloria Gaynor, we have survived.
  • It might have been spring, but only just barely, and winter was still clinging to the town of Stancorrie.
  • The road has been made so narrow in places that buses and lorries can only just get through.
1.1Very recently: I’d only just arrived back from Paris
More example sentences
  • Fr Jim was at home on holidays recently and has only just returned to his Kenyan base.
  • I transferred a grand to my UK account recently and it only just put me back in the black.
  • She has only just arrived for our interview but has been called back to her newspaper with a crisis pending.

only too ——

Used to emphasize that something is the case to an extreme or regrettable extent: you should be only too glad to be rid of him they found that the rumor was only too true
More example sentences
  • Being an inveterate gambler, the fourth son was only too glad to accept the offer.
  • He will be only too glad to hear from you so why not contact the Western People to see what we can do for you.
  • Agents are only too glad to employ former players for their contacts in the game.


Old English ānlic (adjective) (see one, -ly1).

Words that rhyme with only


For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: on·ly

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