only - definition and synonyms

adjective, adverb, conjunction 

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Only can be used in the following ways:
as an adverb: It’s only an idea, but I thought we could try it out.She was only 18 when she had her first child.I only hope we can finish this in time.
as an adjective (always before a noun): I was an only child.You’re the only person who can help me.
as a conjunction: You can come, only make sure you’re on time.
  1. 1
    used for showing that a statement does not apply to anything or anyone else except the person, thing, action, place etc that you are mentioning

    She wouldn’t say where she was going – she only said she’d be back as soon as she could.

    The flowers grow wild only on the island of Maui.

    Everyone promised they would come, but in the end only Ted and Jack showed up.

    I only design the dresses, I don’t actually make them.

    Only in this house do I feel safe and secure.

    They were being nice to Charlie only because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

  2. 2
    used for showing that there are no other things or people of the same kind as the one or ones that you are mentioning
    the/someone’s only:

    David’s the only one of us who has a computer.

    This is the only letter my father ever wrote to me.

    My only reason for coming here was to see you.

    Johnson was born in Aberdeen in 1942, the only son in a family of six children.

    The only people who understand the problem are the scientists.

    The only thing we can do is wait and see.

  3. 3
    used for emphasizing that an amount, number, size, age, percentage etc is small or smaller than expected

    The police station was only 150 metres away.

    The company was established in Lanarkshire only eight months ago.

    She was only 18, but she was as smart as someone twice her age.

    The mobile phone market makes up only a small part of Scottish Telecom’s business.

    The two men spoke with each other only briefly.

  4. 4
    used for emphasizing that something must happen before something else can happen

    You pay the agent only if you sell the house.

    A further statement will be issued only when the investigation has been concluded.

  5. 5
    used for saying that something is not better, worse, more important, more difficult etc than you are saying it is

    Don’t get upset – I was only joking.

    We are only trying to help.

    ‘What was that noise?’ ‘Don’t worry – it’s only the wind.’

  6. 6
    no earlier than a particular time, day, week etc

    I met him for the first time only last week.

    only now/then:

    It is only now that the technology exists to transmit high quality images.

    I picked some roses and only then did I notice that my mother’s favourite vase was missing.

    only when:

    Only when the government stops interfering will we see any improvement in our schools.

  7. 7
    used for adding a comment to something that you have just said which makes it less true or correct

    Her car is like mine, only it has four doors.

    1. a.
      spoken used when you are going to mention a problem or a reason why something is not possible

      I would offer to baby-sit, only I’m going out myself.

      the only thing is...:

      I’d really like to come to the party. The only thing is, my sister is coming to town that day.

  8. 8
    used for saying that the result or effect of something is bad or not wanted and has no positive qualities

    His failure to respond to the criticism only made matters worse.

    I never complain – it only causes more trouble.

  9. 9
    used for showing that something or someone is the best

    You should get a motorbike. Believe me, it’s the only way to travel.

    In my opinion, Bond is the only man for the job.

See also