The "only" problem

The word “only” is an adverb which we often use to denote “limited” or “not more”. The word has other meanings as well but let’s focus on its most common usage.

Observe these examples. Do these sentences have the same meaning?

  1. Only I eat durians.
  2. I eat only durians.
  3. I eat durians only.
  4. I only eat durians.

Indeed. the word “only” is most commonly used but it is also the most incorrectly used in a sentence. Its position in a sentence determines the meaning of the sentence. Let me explain each of the four sentences.

Sentence #1: Only I eat durians

  • It means no one else eats durians except me.

Sentence #2 and #3: I eat only durians / I eat durians only

  • It means the durian is my favourite fruit. I don’t eat other fruit at all.

Sentence #4: I only eat durians

  • It shows you eat the fruit but you don’t take it if it’s in liquid form.

Now, you try and see what the following sentences mean. Which do you think is more romantic? 😛

  1. Only I love you.
  2. I only love you.
  3. I love you only.
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Posted on September 20, 2009, in Word Power and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Number 3. I love you only. It’s more romantic in a sense that ‘I’ love ‘you’ only and not anyone else.

    Number 1 is saying that only one person is loving ‘me’ and that is kind of sad.

    Number 2? ‘I’ only ‘love’ you. I do not care about you. I do not bother anything else. I only ‘LOVE’ you. How to survive that way? ;P

    Did I get it right?

    • “Only I love you” – sounds kind of arrogant. It’s not appropriate to use it when you’re in a relationship. It also has a selfish tone when only one person (and no one else) could love you.

      “I only love you” – may be a bit offensive as it could mean that you love, but nothing more than that.

      “I love you only” – more subtle, only you whom I love.

      Therefore, your interpretations were correct 🙂

  2. first glance, i choose choose 2 and 3. Both sounds the same to me, but after reading Merryn’s interpretation, I know that both sentences are not the same.

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