Why You Need to be Careful with “Only”

English puts adjectives directly before the words they modify. Say you have a red car. You don’t say, “Red Tom can wash my car.” You don’t put the word “red” anywhere except in front of “car.”

The label on the bottle is a good illustration of the effect of adjective location:


We tend to play fast and loose with this rule when the adjective is “only.”

Beware! Don’t write “It’s only going to rain half the day” when what you mean is that it’s going to rain only half the day. Putting “only” first is okay in casual conversation, but be more precise when you write.

Here’s another example, with a better solution than putting “only” where it belongs:

But without a way to accurately gauge how many people are actually on the grounds — attendance is only counted at the end of the night — and with nowhere to send people if they had to be turned away, Hammer says the 322-acre fairgrounds will just have to make room for more.


You might correctly put “only” after “counted,” but the best solution in this case it to leave “only” out altogether.