Where should I put stress in the sentence below?

If only I knew who it was from

  • 3
    The stress could be placed on any of the eight words, depending on which one you wanted to emphasise.
    – WS2
    Nov 26, 2016 at 23:01
  • We need more context. Something like "I've had a Valentine's card. If only I knew who it was from! I'm dying with excitement." or "Someone's sent me a poison-pen letter. If only I knew who it was from: I'd knock their lights out!" The stress in those examples is different. Please add your context.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 26, 2016 at 23:20
  • 1
    Although I agree with WS2 and Andrew Leach's comments, I think there's a natural stress on only. Consider Andrew's Valentine's card example. The preamble tends to place the primary stress on who, but the natural cadence places a small stress on only as well.
    – Lawrence
    Nov 26, 2016 at 23:33
  • @Lawrence Saying the Valentine’s card example card example out loud and not giving any extra prominence to any part of the sentence that would require additional context to justify, I count three primarily stressed words: in descending order of stress prominence: Valentine’s, from, only. I wouldn’t stress who(m) unless I had some contextual reason to. Nov 27, 2016 at 0:32
  • 1
    Why is this marked "British"? I cannot help but wonder where the language of Her Majesty’s Queendom enters into this question, as opposed to the language the rest of us all speak. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 27, 2016 at 2:08

1 Answer 1


From my unpublished play The Kidnapped Goat. Dramatis personae:

Police Detective
Mysterious Man

Act I, Scene I, the Police Detectives, holding a blood-stained sheet of notepaper in his hand, inquires of the Mysterious Man about a kidnapping.

Police Detective (to the Mysterious Man): We can solve this case only with your help since you're the only one who knows who sent the ransom note.

Mysterious Man: Ah, but that would be true if only I knew who it was from. It's possible you're mistaken: there may be other who can help you, and I may not be able to.

Police Detective: Do you mean you know who sent the note but decline to help us or do you mean you don't know anything helpful?

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it was from, then I could help, but I don't know, so I can't.

Police Detective: Then we're at an impasse.

Mysterious Man: That would be true if only I knew who it was from, but there are others.

Police Detective: How about giving us an educated guess?

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it was from would I help. Guessing will do more harm than good.

Police Detective (holding up the paper): Can you tell us anything at all about this note?

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it was from could I tell you more, say about where it was mailed from or the motives of the kidnappers.

Police Detective: We have had several ransom notes, but you'll see that this one is bloodstained, which worries us. Can you tell us about the other notes?

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it (gesturing to the note in the Police Detective's hand) was from could I tell you about the others.

Police Detective: We expect more notes from the kidnappers.

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it (again gesturing to the blood-stained note) was from could I tell you about who will send further notes.

Police Detective: This note arrived at its final destination after having been passed though several intermediaries. Does that tell you anything?

Mysterious Man: If only I knew who it was from could I tell you anything about the route it took.

The lights go out; a shot is heard; a voice heretofore unheard shouts, "What's all this then?"


  • +1 But ... the only in your first example is modifying the word I and means something like not apart from , but in OP's sentence it is arguably modifying the whole clause and has a different meaning. Nov 27, 2016 at 13:32
  • 2
    @Araucaria Everybody's a critic. No wonder I can't get this play produced.
    – deadrat
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:37
  • I'd produce one of your longer works - only you wouldn't want me to because I'd be a rubbish producer ... Nov 27, 2016 at 22:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.