Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you ever hear people use the word “only” in English?

More than likely this is one of those words that pops up often as it’s a frequently used one in conversation.

Have you struggled with trying to figure out where it should go in a sentence?

Today we’re going to look at how to use the word only as an adverb, where it should go in a sentence, and why it matters what you are trying to focus on or modify.

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We have a question about the word “only” and where it should go in a sentence.

Hello Lindsay,

I hope you are doing great and I want to give you a big thank you for your episodes! My English has shifted to another level since I started listening to your podcast. I would be very happy if you could cover my question in one of your upcoming episodes.

Recently while writing a business email I got a bit confused about where to put the word “only” in a sentence. An example would be “Is it possible to only offer…” as opposed to “Is it possible to offer for…..only.” I’m confused about the right way to use this word, and I am hoping you can help me.

Huge thank you once again and greetings from Germany!

Mit freundlichen Grüßen / Best regards,

Vladimir Honcharenko

Looking At The Proper Usage For This Word

You will find that “only” is a word that you tend to use a lot in English.

It has so many different uses, and that’s why it can be a bit confusing sometimes.

When it comes to understanding how to use it here, you want to ask yourself an important question.

What are you modifying?

Only should be BEFORE what is being modified!

That is a great rule to use when you are trying to figure out where to use only in a sentence.

Consider what is being modified, and then it can make it easier to determine the right spot.

Let’s use the example in the listener question as a foundation, and we’ll make up the rest of the sentence as a point of reference.

“Is that possible to only offer one handout for each audience member?”

“Is that possible to offer one handout for each audience member only?”

Which one of these sounds better or more seamless?

The first one seems to sound best and flows better.

It’s a conversation that you can envision having because it sounds natural and is something that you would normally be likely to say.

In the second sentence, you hear “only” at the end of a sentence, but it sounds a little bit formal.

It might make you think of saying something like “for your eyes only” and therefore it’s not a natural sort of usage.

Today we are talking about using only as an adverb, and you will start to understand this particular usage which is quite common.

So what are you modifying?

That’s what you want to keep in mind here when you use only as an adverb—consider what is being modified.

How To Use It In Your Conversations

You have more than likely used “only” in your conversations to this point.

When we look at it as an adverb though, you want to really focus on what is being modified.

This is a shift in mindset, but really it’s all about breaking it down and looking at what makes the better choice in terms of word placement.

Let’s talk about how to use it today, and you will see where only more natural fits in a sentence.

Let’s look at a couple of examples so that you can get a feel for how this works, and then you can see how this works.

  1. “Tara watches Mary only on Tuesday.” This is like a babysitter that only watches the child on Tuesdays, not any other day of the week.

2. “Only Tara watches Mary on Tuesdays.” This is saying not anyone else but Tara watches Mary on that one designated day.

3. “Tara only watches Mary on Tuesdays.” This is like saying that she doesn’t play with her or sing to her, she only watches her and that’s it.

4. “Tara watches only Mary on Tuesdays.” This is saying that Tara watches Mary and not any other child at all.

Do most native speakers follow these rules or use the word only in the right way?

This is one of those things that may not be well know, but really more intuitive.

It may be that native speakers have a feel for which version to use or where to put only in a sentence.

Sometimes it’s more a matter of saying it out loud before something clicks and you see where this word should be used in a sentence.

This may be a matter of trial and error, so don’t worry about making mistakes just know that you will get this eventually.

You may say it wrong the first time, but then you will pick up on it and likely won’t make that mistake again.

Perhaps stress the word after the word only, as that may work.

Think of what you are trying to stress and convey, and then it will be more obvious to you as to how you should be using the word.

Only is a versatile word and it can really help to accent a sentence in a number of different ways.

Always take a step back and think about what you are trying to convey, and then it will make sense.

It will become more natural when you sound it out and get used to using the word only more frequently.

Roleplay To Help

In this roleplay, Lindsay and Michelle are at a grocery store.

Michelle: “So what do you need?”

Lindsay: “Hmm. I only need pickles. I have everything else.”

Michelle: “”Only you would buy three jars of pickles every time you are at the grocery store!”

Lindsay: “Haha. That’s weird. I see only one open register.”

Michelle: “The line will take only five minutes.”

Do these all sound correct to you?

Do they sound natural?

See if they are all technically correct and natural sounding, as this is a great way to practice and see for yourself.


Only is an extremely dynamic word.

We talked about a specific use of this word today, and this is an important one to recognize and try out.

Observe others and how they use it, and be sure to listen for what sounds natural in conversation.

You can use only in a variety of different ways, and in this capacity it’s all about what sounds natural.

You can tell where it fits, and now you have some guidelines to help you in using this properly in conversation.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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