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I think one of the most incorrectly used words in the English language is "only." Case in point: most writers, even very good ones, will use the word like so:

I only go to the grocery store on Wednesdays.

The correct usage would be:

I go only to the grocery store on Wednesdays.

Thoughts?

  • 7
    My thought? You're wrong. – Barmar May 20 at 14:00
  • 3
    In your version he goes to the store and nowhere else. In the original quoted version, he only goes on Wednesdays (not any other days) is quite correct; your version has a different meaning. – simon at rcl May 20 at 14:25
  • Correct in a syntactic context usually means either 'grammatical' (as opposed to 'ungrammatical') or 'bad' (reflecting the esthetic or ethical standards of the speaker). In this case, both these uses follow the actual grammatical rules for placement of only, so they're fully grammatical. No esthetic or ethical reasons for the opinions were expressed, so I'd say there's nothing wrong. YMMV, of course. It's your language when you're speaking it; but the same applies to everybody else. – John Lawler May 20 at 15:29
  • Does this answer your question? position of "only" I'd expect "I only go to the grocery store on Wednesdays" (stress as shown) rather than "I go to the grocery store only on Wednesdays" (which sounds rather highfalutin' in conversation). And "I go only to the grocery store on Wednesdays" sounds ridiculous in conversation; I'd expect (and use) "I only to the grocery store on Wednesdays". Orwell says that 'how most people use it / how it sounds' trumps formal rules of grammar ... when clarity isn't compromised, maybe. – Edwin Ashworth May 20 at 15:43
  • Does this answer your question? position of "only" – Jason Bassford May 20 at 16:03
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  • I only go to the grocery store on Wednesdays.

Ideally, as I would have it --but I understand this is quite personal-- this should mean "On that particular day, I don't do whatever else has been talked about or is understood, I just go to the grocery store.".

  • I go only to the grocery store on Wednesdays.

On Wednesdays I go to the grocery store but I go nowhere else or I don't go to any other store, depending on the context.

  • I go to the grocery store only on Wednesdays.

Given any other day than wednesday I do not go to the grocery store, Wednesday is the only day.

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  • "I only go to the grocery store on Wednesdays" implies "On Wednesdays, I only go to the grocery store," which could mean "Of all the stores I go to, on Wednesdays I only go to the grocery store." Does your statement On that particular day, I don't do whatever else has been talked about or is understood address this possibility? – Richard Kayser May 20 at 17:09
  • @RichardKayser It does include that possibility if going to various shops is part of the context; if the context includes for instance, jogging, visits to friends, and going to the neighbourhood swimming pool twice a week, then all those are excluded on Wednesdays but going to the grocery store on Mondays is not. However, I am conscious that generally the sense corresponding to this placement is that in the third sentence: on no other days than Wednesdays. – LPH May 20 at 20:33
  • "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." – Peter Shor May 20 at 20:55

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