Is this sentence grammatically correct?

He doesn't only like football but also likes tennis.

and if it's wrong, why so?

Specifically, is there any problem with omitting the subject in the second clause?

Also, is there any problem with the verb form likes?

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6 Answers 6


I would rephrase the sentence as

He likes not only football but also tennis

in the style of the first of the examples here. This rephrasing avoids repeating the verb after but also if it is the same verb that came before the not only (compare with the second example in the link, where there are two different verbs).

Note that here the not only... but also... construction is used to amplify the object of the sentence, which essentially is of the form "He likes THIS". That's why it is not necessary to repeat neither the verb "like" nor the subject "he" inside the object.

  • okay thanks for your help so even if i rephrased the sentence as "he doesn't only like football,but also tennis" is still wrong right?
    – Willizsack
    Feb 15, 2016 at 17:54
  • I think so, though people would still understand the meaning.
    – Octania
    Feb 15, 2016 at 18:09
  • 1
    Also think about the context, you are trying to make a positive assertion so keep the intent of the sentence positive. 'Doesn't' is somewhat negative and is also somewhat clumsy to say, reading is easier if it's also easier to say out loud. Good cues when analysing your sentence structure.
    – Lazarus
    Feb 15, 2016 at 18:28
  • Thanks but in our textbooks it says it's okay to use it as a matter of fact we have to use it
    – Willizsack
    Feb 15, 2016 at 20:39

Analyzing : "He doesn't only like football but also likes tennis."

Normal usage is "not only X but also Y", but here "not" is getting merged with "does" , the usage looks odd.
More-over, "only like" refers to "like" , not "football", so using "tennis" later looks odd.

"He not only likes football but also excels in it."
Here, we have the normal usage of "not only X but also Y" & "likes" goes along with "excels", both in terms of football.

When you want to state that he likes football & tennis, then try this:
"He likes not only football but also tennis."
Here, "football" goes along with "tennis".

Reference :
The Cambridge Grammar Of The English Language :
Here, the common format of "not only X but also Y" is stated, with some possible variations.

  • 1
    +1, especially for discussing nicely how “only” in “only like” refers to “like”! All oddness of merging “does” with “not” aside, could the OP avoid the “only like” issue and still merge the “not” (which in a comment s/he says has to be done) by simply flipping “only” and “like,” (or “love,” especially in an ill-chosen, yet emphatic response to an angry spouse’s accusation that the other spouse loves only football)?: “[Dear,]You’re wrong! I don’t love only football, but tennis as well!”
    – Papa Poule
    Feb 22, 2016 at 16:32
  • 1
    @PapaPoule , thanks for your encouragement ! When somebody is communicating within family, then he is allowed to make mistakes, because the listener usually knows what is he trying to say. In your case, the wife knows what the guy is saying & might get more angry ! But I feel the formation is odd. I would use "I don’t love only football" when somebody claims that "I do not love all physical sports" ; I want to say that I love all other physical sports, but "I don’t love only football". If I had to say that "I love football & tennis", I would state "I love not only football but also tennis".
    – Prem
    Feb 22, 2016 at 16:49
  • 1
    This is a nice answer. I suggest that you add a citation from The Cambridge Grammar Of The English Language (pp. 1314-1315) and maybe do a bit of adjustment so that you win the bounty, since the person who's offered the bounty is "Looking for an answer drawing from credible and/or official sources". I don't think another answer needs posting.
    – Færd
    Feb 25, 2016 at 9:38
  • @Fard , thanks for the reference ! I will add it now.
    – Prem
    Feb 25, 2016 at 11:47
  • 1
    Apparently we missed the example "Complete power doesn't only corrupt, but it also..." in the middle of the page 1315. You may wanna edit again. Sorry if I misled you.
    – Færd
    Feb 25, 2016 at 14:03

Yes, there is something wrong with this sentence, and it does have to do with omitting the subject in the second clause. "But" is a coordinate conjunction which (like "and" and "or") connects phrases of the same type. It can connect two sentences, two verb phrases, or two of various other things. In your example, since the subject of the second clause is omitted, "but" must be connecting two verb phrases.

Now, coordinate constructions have a peculiar property, discovered and investigated by John Ross, which he called the Coordinate Structure Constraint (CSC). As McCawley phrases it, it requires both parts of a coordinate structure to be treated equally by any grammatical process. I think that is what has gone wrong in your example: the first verb phrase of the two that are connected with "but" is not treated the same way as the second one.

The "s" at the end of "likes" expresses the present tense of the verb, of course, and although in the second verb phrase, it appears at the end of the verb where it belongs, in the first verb phrase it is missing. The "s" present ending in the first verb phrase had to be moved to the left, because of the "not", and the auxiliary verb "do" was added to carry the tense.

The CSC does not allow this, because the "s" was moved away from the verb of the first verb phrase, but the same thing did not happen to the corresponding verb of the second verb phrase.

This was a difficult example, and I hope I got it right.

  • "CSC... requires both parts of a coordinate structure to be treated equally by any grammatical process". So, CSC doesn't allow you to say: "He didn't come, but he called", because one sentence is negative and the other isn't?
    – Færd
    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:00
  • @Fard, no, there is no grammatical process involved with your example -- simply two coordinated sentences with different composition. If you start with "He couldn't afford caviar, but he loved it", and make this into a relative clause by relativizing "caviar" in one conjunct but not the other, you'll see the CSC at work: *"the caviar which he couldn't afford but he loved it".
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 18, 2016 at 12:53
  • 1
    John Lawler discusses conjunction reduction: 'All English clauses have subjects. However, the subjects of clauses are often deleted, by various rules, if they are predictable from context ... With true conjoined clauses, any material that's repeated in all clauses may be deleted from all but the first clause. ... "Worcester is a very sought after porcelain, and [it] is regarded as the finest of the period by many experts." '// 'He likes football, but really loves tennis.' is fine. Feb 22, 2016 at 16:06
  • @EdwinAshworth, The Lawler discussion you point to is mistaken, because it discusses conjunction reduction as though it were simply a deletion which reduces a structure -- actually the structure is rearranged so as to obey the rule that only like categories are conjoined. Since John is a fan of McCawley's book, and McCawley goes to great pains to establish how this works, I can only think that he was trying to abbreviate here. But it's wrong, and that account makes it impossible to understand an example like the one under discussion.
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 22, 2016 at 21:58
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth I understand that fundamental disagreements, lack of consensus, confusion of terminology, are disturbing. I'm sorry that there is no standard view in sight. But that's the way it is. A difference between laymen and pros is that pros deal better with confusion and can work around some disagreements. For instance, I haven't believed in transformations for decades, but I can understand McCawley's proposals and translate to my own views.
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 25, 2016 at 22:05

When using a correlative conjunction, both clauses have to be parallel. That means you have to use them before two nouns, two adjectives, two verbs etc.

When we look at the sentence

He doesn't only like football but also likes tennis.

we see that the verb is 'like' and the two nouns are 'Football' and 'Tennis'. If we go by the above mentioned rule, it implies that when 'not only' is followed by the verb 'like', 'but also' will be followed immediately by another 'verb' describing the same subject 'football' and not another subject, as in this case, tennis. With two different nouns and the common verb 'like', 'not only...but also' is to be used immediately before the nouns. So, the correct sentence would be:

He likes not only football but also tennis.

Reference 1

Reference 2


You asked if there was something grammatically wrong with your phrasing - the answer is no. Some people are suggesting you may choose the more traditional:

"He likes not only football but also tennis",

but it's boring, and the word "not only" sound disgusting to my ears. Yours, while non-traditional, actually pops out more, and reads better. You repeat the word "likes" which actually sounds better because it emphasizes how much he likes both sports.

I say, keep it the way it is.

PS- you asked about the verb form "likes". To me, it's a sexy five letter word that is very under used.


To stick to the proposed form, I would also rephrase it like this : "He doesn't only like football but also tennis."

Or : "He doesn't only like football but he also likes tennis".

Beside grammar concepts, the reason is because if you skip the middle he, in colloquial speech, then there is no need to keep likes which would be a 2nd verb for the same subject, first word of the sentence, when you want to be direct.

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