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Only: The most misused word in Desi English
Sachi Chander
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July 23, 2007

In India, we have over a dozen official languages and countless local dialects. So how does a farmer from Bihar speak with a fisherman from Kerala [Images]? The answer, for now, is 'not easily'.

One day, however, all Indians will use English as a first, second or third language. This will allow them to communicate effectively not only with other Indians, but also the rest of the world.

Of course, getting to that point won't be easy. For most of us, English is still a challenge. With all its irregularities, exceptions and rules, English is a very difficult language to master.

With that in mind, presents our English Bloopers series. Here, we publish written and spoken mistakes spotted and sent to us by observant Get Ahead readers. It's a great way to review the basics, clarify a few issues and share a laugh or two! 

So, stop by each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for another fresh batch of English Bloopers. 

This is Sachi Chander, a senior undergraduate in civil engineering from IIT Madras. In my daily conversations, I find several people using the word 'only' incorrectly. I want to demostrate how 'only' is a powerful word, which conveys a totally different meaning when shifted from one position to another.

Here are a few pointers to correct simple errors.

Let us consider a common sentence, 'This is my plan.'

1. ONLY this is my plan.

Meaning: It means that this alone is your plan and no other plan is yours. If someone wants to specify a certain object from a set, this usage is permitted. It can also be used to restrict or limit a set of objects.


 "Only the red bag is mine, not the other bags."
 "Only three garments can be taken into the trial room."

2. This is ONLY my plan.

Meaning: It means that this is just your plan and nothing more than that. It can be used in a situation where you're trying to convey that this is not something definite like a confirmed proposal. This is just a simple plan and not anything bigger than that.

3. This is my ONLY plan.

Meaning: It means that this is the single plan that you have come up with. 'Only', when used with a common noun, indicates an object that is single in number.


"He was the only boy in the class who could answer my question."
"I lost my only football when it fell into the well."
"That old man's only son is looking after him."

4. This is my plan ONLY. (Warning: Grammatically incorrect statement)

Misuse: Most of us are prone to use this line very often when we want to stress that this is our plan and that we came up with it. But this is wrong. The right way of saying it:

" I was the one who came up with this plan."
" I planned this myself."

Wrong: I had left the bag here only but I can't find it now.

Correct: I had left the bag here, but I can't find it now.

Wrong: The time is three pm only. Tea won't be served now only!

Correct: This time is just three pm. Tea won't be served now.

Wrong: That film star's age is twenty only.

Correct: That film star's age is just twenty.

Wrong: I only caught the thief when he tried to escape.

Correct: It was I who caught the thief when he tried to escape.

Wrong: The movie was nice only.
Wrong: The movie was ok only.

Correct: The movie was very nice.
Correct: The movie was fairly nice.

Wrong: I took three seconds only to answer that question.

Correct: I took only three seconds to answer that question.

Don't despair! With practice, we can learn the proper usage of 'only'.


MORE English bloopers

If you'd like to share common bloopers you come across when people speak/ write in English, do mail your list, along with their correct alternatives to -- we'll highlight them right here as a helpful guide to those trying to improve their English. Also, make sure you include your FULL NAME, AGE, OCCUPATION and the CITY you are based in.

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