A sentence that does not seem right on account of syntax

  • Not only are verbs largely uninflected in English, but also nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

This sentence seems very unusual although it is understandable. I can't tell what is wrong with it, if anything is. Possibly the adverb "only" is not properly positioned but I can't assert that.

Would someone confirm that there is a problem and explain what is wrong? Otherwise, can someone show that there is no problem?

  • 8
    Not only ... but also is a coordinating conjunction; the subject-auxiliary inversion in the first clause is because of the negation. The sentence is fine; the verb phrase are largely uninflected in English is deleted from the end of the second clause by conjunction reduction, leaving only the subject conjoined noun phrase nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Oct 13, 2020 at 22:03
  • @JohnLawler Would this be correct: "Not only are verbs largely uninflected in English, but also are nouns, pronouns and adjectives."?
    – LPH
    Oct 13, 2020 at 22:10
  • 3
    No, that's ungrammatical; the original was correct. You're following an incorrect rule. Oct 13, 2020 at 22:18
  • 6
    @JohnLawler Wouldn't you say that, if the OP's looking for an alternative, they could use "but so are nouns, pronouns and adjectives" getting rid of the rather clumsy also altogether?
    – BoldBen
    Oct 14, 2020 at 0:03
  • 1
    It's certainly pretentious.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 14, 2021 at 18:09

3 Answers 3


Not only are verbs largely uninflected in English, but also nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

There's nothing wrong.

As John Lawler points out, Not only ... but also is a conjunction along the lines of "either ... or"

The example equates to

Verbs are largely uninflected in English and so are nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

Expanded further to demonstrate the two coordinate clauses:

Verbs are largely uninflected in English and nouns, pronouns and adjectives are largely uninflected in English.

An alternative view might be

Verbs are largely uninflected in English in the manner of nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

But this does not express exactly the same idea as nouns, pronouns and adjectives can only be considered as an a priori standard.


The sentence structure is a bit awkward even if I ignore the grammatical error. Still, the main issue that I see is that you have but also preceding a dependent clause rather than an independent clause.

Perhaps something such as the following could work:

Verbs are not the only words that are largely uninflected in English. Additionally, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives are largely uninflected as well.

If you wanted a compound sentence then:

In addition to verbs, the English language has largely uninflected nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.

The underlying issue (the awkwardness that I spoke of) is that you are really going to have to be unnecessarily wordy to make this work. The best solution to limit wordiness would be this:

English is largely uninflected.

(I took the last one directly from the Oxford Languages Dictionary.)

Thanks to @Hellion for catching word usage mistakes.

Thanks to @LPH for catching that the compound sentence example is very weak. I have created a new example in its place.

  • You can't have subordination with correlative conjunctions, I don't think so.
    – LPH
    Nov 13, 2020 at 20:02
  • @Hellion Thanks, thought it was wrong. Corrected.
    – Joseph
    Nov 15, 2020 at 13:26
  • @LPH Thanks for that. I have created a new example in its place.
    – Joseph
    Nov 15, 2020 at 13:32
  • Actually, what I meant is that "but also" would not be preceding a dependent clause, this being so as with correlative conjunctions, which are neither plain coordinating conjunctions nor subordinating conjunctions, there is preservation of an equality between the correlated parts, as there is for instance in the case of coordination of independent clauses. "Not only …but" is not a subordinating correlative but instead a coordinating correlative and so, in this sentence there is no subordination.
    – LPH
    Nov 15, 2020 at 18:05
  • 1
    @BillJ I don't know what to say to you: CGEL(13.33) does assert that not only …but is a correlative coordinator (not a subordinator) and that is what I go by but the fine analysis of why it is a coordinator is not a theory that figures in my background. I couldn't set out to demonstrate that with my present grammatical background. I have to take on faith that this is a coordinating correlative.
    – LPH
    Nov 15, 2020 at 18:19

I believe my first impression could be justified (problem). After having thought about the several comments to the question, it finally occurred to me that "not only… but also" was a unit that could leave some trace somewhere and the check I made was conclusive.

(Grammarly: Parallelism with "not only…but also)
When using "not only . . . but also" in a sentence, parallelism should be the goal. It means that the words following both parts of this correlative conjunction (i.e., not only and but also) should belong to the same parts of speech. For example, if a verb follows "not only", then a verb should also follow "but also". Using different parts of speech after each part of "not only . . . but also" makes the sentence imbalanced and, frankly, just awkward.

A slight change according to this principle, which results in the sentence below, would appear to give back to the initial sentence a normal feel, but that is without taking into account another principle, the verb/subject inversion in sentences beginning with "not only" (cambridge Grammar).

  • Not only verbs are largely uninflected in English, but also nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

However, if the verb is changed into the corresponding noun there is no problem in preserving parallelism.

  • In English, absence of inflection is characteristic of not only verbs, but also of nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

Another option, perhaps better

  • In english, not only verbs but also nouns, pronouns and adjectives are largely uninflected.
  • "Not only .. but also" is not correlative. "Not only" can be repeated in layered coordination, e.g. "Practice among authorities varies [not only on the question of the parental means scale, not only in the way they assess parental incomes, but also in the amounts which they give]". "Not only" thus functions as a modifier, not a marker of correlative coordination. The location of "not only" the simply reflects the range of positions available to focusing adverbs like "only".
    – BillJ
    Oct 14, 2020 at 16:21
  • @BillJ I can't follow your argument; for instance it is accepted that "the…the" is correlative, yet you can add conjoins: "the cheaper, the closer, the faster, the better". Is not this construction correlative in your theory?
    – LPH
    Oct 14, 2020 at 22:49
  • The point is that "not only" is not a marker of correlative coordination, but a modifier in the first coordinate. My example proves this.
    – BillJ
    Oct 15, 2020 at 7:36
  • Your "satisfying, balanced sentence," In English, are largely uninflected not only ... has very un-English word order. Sep 11, 2021 at 20:01
  • @PeterShor Is there a readily understandable principle that could be referred to in order to explain that?
    – LPH
    Sep 11, 2021 at 20:06

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