Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Today's Grammar Lesson: Only

Famous grammarian James Kilpatrick wrote a column every year aiming to teach his readers how to use the word “only” correctly.
Here’s my take on it.

The flowers in my garden are green.
Only the flowers in my garden are green: In my garden the trees are purple and the grass is yellow. Only the flowers are green.
The flowers in my garden are only green: No pink or red flowers are in my garden. Just green ones.
The flowers in my only garden are green: I don’t have a garden in front of my house and one behind it. I have just the one garden. With green flowers.

The point of these stories about my garden is that it matters where you put the adverb only. To make sense it has to be as close as possible to the word it modifies or you get an entirely different meaning. Often writers seem to think the sentence flows more smoothly with “only” moved around. That’s fine. Just be sure you haven’t changed the meaning of your sentence by moving it. Clarity and accuracy are more important than eloquence.

This is particularly important in longer sentences as “only” may end up modifying an entire clause, instead of just a word and your whole sentence is then confusing, crazy or meaningless.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.