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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.
I will only go with you if you buy me an ice cream.
Thank you in advance for your explanations and advice.
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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.
― Steven Wright
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Both sentences seem to indicate a condition,
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 modifiesif you buy me an ice cream.
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.go with you.
― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays