How ONLY Can Change a Sentence

Today, while preparing the next batch of “Writing Glitch” posts, I was reminded of a topic I’ve been wanting to address for a while: the placement of the word only in a sentence and how that placement affects (not effects, dammit) the overall meaning.

Take the sentence, He said he loved her, and add only somewhere — anywhere.

Only he said he loved her. (No one else said he/they loved her.)

He only said he loved her. (He said he loved her, but he didn’t do or say anything else.)

He said only he loved her. (He said that no one else loved her.)

He said he only loved her. (He said he loved her but not that he did anything else.)

He said he loved only her. (He said he loved no one other than her.)

As a character in Robert Holdstock’s novel Lavondyss said, “Stories are fragile. Like people’s lives. It only takes a word out of place to change them forever.”

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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6 Responses to How ONLY Can Change a Sentence

  1. M. Oniker says:

    This is not only true in real writing-writing, but it is true for things like IM and emails. Hoo-boy, some of the things that can go wrong with little bitty word placements there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.R. Handley says:

    Loved this one! 🙂

    Like

  3. “I only have eyes for you.” Based on your article, the speaker is saying he doesn’t have anything else for her–just his eyes. But the popular interpretation of the song is that she is the only one he has eyes for. It should be “I have eyes for only you.” But then the syncopation isn’t right. We humans are funny critters.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a really smart post. I’ve been following your grammar tips for a while now, and this may be the best I’ve seen yet.
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most of my “writing glitch” posts are just correcting errors I see in stuff I find online (mostly writing prompts found on Pinterest). However, if there’s a specific topic relating to the mechanics of writing (grammar, punctuation, word usage, etc.) that you’d like to see addressed, feel free to request a post on it.

      Like

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