- On April 2, 2014
A networking organization writes to tell its members how seriously it takes their privacy. We only share data when we’re legally required to do so. My newspaper tells me I’m about to receive extra crossword puzzles that could only come from the paper’s master crosswords editor.
The authors are relying on the word only to make a specific point—my privacy is guarded; my intellect challenged—but the word only is misplaced.
See how the sentences perk up when only directly precedes what it’s meant to modify: We share data only when we’re legally bound to do so. These are crosswords only our master editor could create.
As a reader, you perk up too.
A well-known beer runs a one-sentence ad for its low-calorie brew. Our beer only has 120 calories! But only—arguably the ad’s most important word—is in the wrong place, undermining the campaign’s main message: Belly-conscious guzzlers, drink up! Our beer has only 120 calories!
Place only in front of the word—or words—you want to emphasize. That’s generally not the verb. Your writing will be more powerful and precise—and your readers will be more likely to react as you want them to.