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I'm trying to figure out how to use "not only... but also" properly. Basically, my goal is to combine two clauses by using "not only".

For negations, I've figured out two styles that both sound correct:

  • He knew that if he fractures his finger, not only would he not be able to compete in the water polo tournament, he would not be able to take the SAT on Monday, either.
  • He knew that if he fractures his finger, neither would he be able to compete in the water polo tournament, nor would he be able to take the SAT on Monday.

However, I don't know how to form a sentence that does not include a negation while using "not only". Here are a few possibilities that I've considered:

  • Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, but he was also given a full scholarship.
  • Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, but he was given a full scholarship.
  • Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, he was given a full scholarship.
  • Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, he was also given a full scholarship.

In those four possibilities, I'm varying the usage of "but" and "also" in the last clause.

What is the proper usage of "not only"?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In the bottom one, this is how I would form it:

Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, he was not only accepted into Harvard, but also given a full scholarship.

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I'd use the one with the "not only/but/also" construct:

Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, but he was also given a full scholarship.

  • "not only [fact A] but [fact B]". When you start with "not only" you're indicating that two facts A and B will be presented. Fact A is something that is already good enough (or bad enough) by itself and fact B makes it even better (or even worse). In general, this construct expresses that expectations have been exceeded positively (or negatively).

  • Including "also" as part of fact B is how we emphasize that fact B occurred in addition to fact A.

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I'm not sure of the official usage but as a writer, I find that "not only...but also" usually sounds ugly. There's better ways to structure a sentence.

The version I much prefer is the last:

Thanks to his remarkable performance on the SAT, not only was he accepted into Harvard, he was also given a full scholarship.

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That's ungrammatical, like "he hit his finger with a hammer, it didn't hurt". –  Jim Balter Mar 20 '11 at 21:31
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I agree with Bruno regarding the initial question.

I do notice a bit of a problem with the first negations the post offers as understood.

He knew that if he fractures his finger, not only will he not be able to compete in the water polo tournament, he will not be able to take the SAT on Monday, either. He knew that if he fractures his finger, neither will he be able to compete in the water polo tournament, nor will he be able to take the SAT on Monday.

Both sentences have issues in terms of coordination of the tenses.

He knew that if he fractured his finger... he WOULD not be able to... he WOULD not be able to take the SAT on Monday. Since the independent clause is coded as past tense... the future tense (will) is not a viable option grammatically.

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Good call! Forgot about that, will edit post now. –  Maxim Zaslavsky Mar 20 '11 at 19:32
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Good question. There are two variants for not only but also. First, we use it straight as such, as in this sentence:

I have not only a pet mouse but also a pet dog.

My friend Joe has not only helped me but also given me a lift.

A pet dog does not only bark but also bite.


In these above sentences, the subject was before not only and hence those sentences all have a parallel construction in which either the action or an object are set off with not only-but also construction. Also notice there is no comma separating but also. This is important.

In the second type of construction, the subject of the sentence may come after not only. In such cases, we do not use but also as such. Instead, we slightly change it so that the second part also contains a subject that is relevant. As in these examples:

Not only did my friend Joe help me out, but he also drove me to the university.

Not only does my pet dog bite me, but he also barks at me. ;-)

Not only are there students in the room, but also parents. (here, the parents are there part is not quite required, so you don't have to say but parents are also there because it's implied.)

Why is the second type of usage relevant? Look at those sentences. You see the first part is a dependent clause and the main sentence comes after the comma. Hence, a comma is not only important but also necessary. Because we always set off the dependent clause with a comma, remember!

Hope this helps. I haven't edited my own writing here..

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