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Correct position of “only”

Should I use only before or after the pronoun?

If only I had a chance

If I only had a chance

Both sentences bring a lot of results and both seem to be the name of songs. Are both correct? Is there a rule for similar sentences?

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marked as duplicate by Jim, tchrist, Matt Эллен, MετάEd, jwpat7 Aug 18 '12 at 18:29

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3 Answers

Your two sentences have different meanings:

If only I had a chance

precludes others from having a chance, whereas

If I only had a chance

implies that I don't have a chance, but that if I did I could be able to do something.

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Either order seems OK to me when, as in the example, it is an appeal to a higher power for the thing desired.

Otherwise, 'only' should really come before the thing qualified. I only saw him last night (I did not speak to him) I saw only him last night (No-one else) I saw him only last night (that recently)

The trouble is that, in speech, we tend to emphasise the thing to which only relates rather than placing only correctly.

I only SAW him last night

I only saw HIM last night

I only saw him LAST NIGHT

In short notices, only is likely to come last: Staff Only.

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I think placement with respect to the verb is what matters here, not the pronoun...but the two phrases are nearly synonymous anyway. The shade of difference is that the second phrase could mean "if I had nothing but a chance".

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