Placement of Only

Placement of the adverb “only” in a sentence is important because the whole meaning can change if it’s moved to another
location.

Examples:
Only the contractor could install the pump for the $5,000 that was quoted.
(nobody else could do it at that price)
The contractor could only install the pump for the $5,000 that was quoted.
(but not test it or commission it)
The contractor could install only the pump for the $5,000 that was quoted.
(not the accompanying connection lines)
The contractor could install the pump for only the $5,000 that was quoted.
(not the $6,000 that it actually cost)
The contractor could install the pump for the $5,000 that was only quoted.
(but the contract was never signed)

Here’s the Rule of Thumb:
Place the word “only” directly in front of the word to which it applies. In spoken English, this rule is not as important because the sentence stress used by the speaker can eliminate any ambiguity. However, in written English, “only” pertains to or sets a imitation on the word or phrase that immediately follows it, so be careful when deciding where to place it, especially when writing specifications or contracts.

More Examples:
The only data available have come from a laboratory study.
(data were very limited)
The data available have only come from a laboratory study.
(just recently, more expected)
The data available have come from only a laboratory study.
(no field study data like the other fields)

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Quote of the Day:
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
– Albert Einstein, German physicist, 1879-1955

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