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Expressing Restriction

Last time we learnt about expressing exception and before that, we looked at additions.

Let us now look into another similar category: restriction by using words like 'only' and its synonyms, but not for indicating an amount or degree.

"Only" as restrictive

Words like "only" are RESTRICTIVE in the sense that they combine negative meaning with the idea of exception:

“He only knew one answer.” (=’he knew nothing but one answer’) 

Only my brother knows my secret.” (= ‘no one except my brother…’)

"Only" for amounts and degrees

If we have an expression of amount and degree, then only means ‘no more than…’:

Only a few people came to her wedding" (=’no more than a few…’).

“I know this subject only slightly.” (=’… no more than slightly’)

“He didn’t buy the car from me; he only borrowed it from me." (= ‘… he did no more than borrowing it from me’)

Synonyms for "only"

There are other words with a similar meaning to only, like just,  merelysimply.

When we’re talking about time and timing, the restrictive meaning of only can still be applied, in a slightly different way:

“I’ve heard your news only last week." (=’no earlier than’, or ‘as late as…’)

Contrast between "only" and "even"

However, note that there is a contrast between only and even:

Only my coat was wet." (=’that and nothing else’).

"Even my underclothes were soaked." (= ‘That as well as everything else’)

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