Getting “Only” Right

Bruce Schneier is a cybersecurity and cryptography guru. (They say he’s so good he can decode alphabet soup.) I happen to be a regular reader of his Crypto-gram newsletter, and here’s a quote from the April 2018 edition:

It’s routine for US police to unlock iPhones with the fingerprints of dead people. It seems only to work with recently dead people.

Many (maybe most) people put the word “only” at the very beginning of the phrase or clause that it belongs with. The trouble is that adjectives (of which “only” is one) should go right next to the word they refer to. If he had written this incorrectly and said

It only seems to work with recently dead people.

Then “only” would be modifying “seems,” an entirely different meaning.

So watch where you put your onlys.