Using 'only' in a sentence

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Serenflippity
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Using 'only' in a sentence

Post by Serenflippity » 01 Aug 2018, 19:29

Dear OBC editors and members

I am an aspiring author having joined OBC for the free reads and an opportunity to improve my writing.

While there are a myriad of resources on the internet, I get lost amongst the extreme grammarian gobbledygood explanations when trying to understand the correct usage of the word 'only'. Is there a grammatically correct rule governing its use? Let me illustrate my confusion with an example:

I will go with you only if you buy me an ice cream.
OR
I will only go with you if you buy me an ice cream.

Thank you in advance for your explanations and advice.

Regards
Serenflippity

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quentaje
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Post by quentaje » 03 Aug 2018, 13:25

To me, those examples are both correct. I'm curious about other answers. In the end, I think word order choice is mostly stylistic (in most cases) and should be up to the writer.

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DATo
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Post by DATo » 04 Aug 2018, 23:42

If what I am assuming you mean to say is correct then both of the sentences used in the illustration are open to misinterpretation and are therefore less than the perfect way to state the thought in my estimation.

Both sentences can be misconstrued to mean:
"I will go with you exclusively (with you only and no one else) if you buy me an ice cream."

The correct way to write it and have the meaning clear to the reader would be:
"I will go with you provided that you buy me an ice cream."

This is assuming that my second illustration is the meaning you are attempting to convey.

The word "only" can cause a lot of problems. Another illustration would be:
"I only wanted to say that I agree with you."

Once again the person speaking COULD mean ... "I (and no one else) am the only one who wanted to say I agree with you." ... though the use of a comma after "I" and "only" could clarify the meaning.

These are fine points and hardly worth worrying about if writing dialogue, the reader will intuitively know what you mean to say; however, if one is striving for perfect, logical grammar one must be careful when using this word.
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Post by jgraney8 » 11 Sep 2018, 22:40

Serenflippity wrote:
01 Aug 2018, 19:29

I will go with you only if you buy me an ice cream.
OR
I will only go with you if you buy me an ice cream.


Regards
Serenflippity
Both sentences seem to indicate a condition,
if you buy me an ice cream.
The first one emphasizes the condition by placing the only in near the condition. By moving the only in front of go with you, the only modifies
go with you.
It seems to indicate the condition for going is buying the ice cream. In other words, I will stay with you without you buying the ice cream. That may be more subtle than most readers will be aware of or care about.
“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”
― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

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