American English

Definition of only adverb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



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  1. 1nobody or nothing except There are only a limited number of tickets available. The bar is for members only. You only have to look at her to see she doesn't eat enough. Only five people turned up.
  2. 2in no other situation, place, etc. I agreed, but only because I was frightened. Children are admitted only if accompanied by an adult. In formal written English only, or only if and its clause, can be placed first in the sentence. In the second part of the sentence, be, do, have, etc. come before the subject and the main part of the verb:Only in the Southwest do you find scenery like this.Only if these conditions are fulfilled can the application proceed to the next stage.
  3. 3no more important, interesting, serious, etc. than It was only a suggestion. Don't blame me, I'm only the messenger! He was only teasing you.
  4. 4no more than; no longer than She's only 21 and she runs her own business. It only took a few seconds. It took only a few seconds.
  5. 5not until We only got here yesterday. (formal) Only then did she realize the stress he was under. When only begins a sentence be, do, have, etc. come before the subject and the main part of the verb.
  6. 6used to say that someone can do no more than what is mentioned, although this is probably not enough We can only guess what happened. He could only watch helplessly as the car plunged into the ravine. Ionly hope that she never finds out.
  7. 7used to say that something will have a bad effect If you do that, it will only make matters worse. Trying to reason with him only enrages him even more.
  8. 8only to do something used to mention something that happens immediately afterward, especially something that causes surprise, disappointment, etc. She turned into the driveway, only to find her way blocked.
  9. Idioms
    for somebody's eyes only
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    to be seen only by a particular person I'll lend you the letters but they're for your eyes only.
    used to say that you wish something was true or that something had happened If only I were rich. If only I knew her name. If only he'd remembered to send that letter. If only I had gone by taxi.
    not only… but (also)…
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    both… and… He not only read the book, but also remembered what he had read. Language Bankaccording toreporting someone's opinionPhotography is, according to Vidal, the art form of untalented people.For Vidal, photography is the art form of untalented people.His view is that photography is not art but merely the mechanical reproduction of images.Smith takes the view that photography is both an art and a science.In Brown's view, photography should be treated as a legitimate art in its own right.James is of the opinion that a good painter can always be a good photographer if he or she so decides.Emerson believed that a photograph should reflect only what the human eye can see.
    only have eyes for/have eyes only for somebody
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    to be in love with only one particular person He's only ever had eyes for his wife.
    only if (rather formal)
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    used to state the only situation in which something can happen Only if a teacher has given permission is a student allowed to leave the room. Only if the red light comes on is there any danger to employees.
    1. 1not long ago/before We've only just arrived.
    2. 2almost not He only just caught the train. I can afford it, but only just.
    only too…
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    very I was only too pleased to help. Children can be difficult, as we know only too well.
    you're only young once (saying)
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    young people should enjoy themselves as much as possible, because they will have to work and worry later in their lives
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: only