I read this sentence from a book.

"I not only lost all my money - I also lost my passport".

Why it's not "I am not only.." or "I don't only..".
I don't know how to describe this kind of grammar, couldn't get much help from google.
Could you please explain this to me? Thanks a lot.

3 Answers 3


That's a good question.

The answer, I think, is that not only acts as a unit. I can't think of another adverb which can take not in this way.*

The regular form I didn't only lose all my money is also possible.

*Constructions with not + adverb are common when there is no verb, as in "Do you always go that way?" "Not always"; or "He finished the job, but not quickly". But when there is a verb, the negative normally goes to the verb in the usually way "I don't always go that way"; "He didn't finish quickly".

Edit: I have thought of one more example: not infrequently. But neither often nor frequently works this way.

  • What about "not much"? Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 1:08
  • @EditingFrank: can you give an example of not much [verb], as opposed to don't much [verb]? As I said, several adverbs are used this way when there isn't a verb.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 8:21

The fullest version of this coordinate pair is not only . . . but also. A slightly more economical version of the sentence would be “I lost not only all my money but also my passport”—since subject and verb remain the same, one can economize here by zeugma.


It's a logical negation. Removing not, we get I only lost all my money - I also lost my passport, which is not correct; Adding the also invalidates the only. So, adding the not makes the sentence acceptable.

In common usage, this structure is used to reinforce the positive or negative aspect of the situation, as in not only did one bad thing happen, but another did, so it's even worse as opposed to two bad things happened.

  • This doesn't answer the question, which is about the anomalous syntax of not in this construction.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 16:53
  • @ColinFine It's a logical negation of only... there's nothing anomalous about this construct. As well, the question isn't about that, it's about explaining what's going on.
    – Andy
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 17:29
  • 2
    There are very few adverbs which allow this construction. I have thought of only one other: not infrequently. But you can't say *I not merely went there or *I not happily did it. That makes it anomalous.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 17:34
  • @ColinFine It works with just and quite, too, off the top of my head. Perhaps there is some constraint where it only works with quantitative adverbs? I want to say monosyllabic as well, but only defies that.
    – Andy
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 18:03
  • those don't work for me. Without a verb they're OK (not quite, not just) but with a verb the negative goes to the verb (*I not just did it; *I not quite managed it). Are those examples grammatical for you?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 23:54

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