I love words. I love that they have specific definitions, yet are malleable enough to convey subtle meanings beyond the obvious. In face-to-face conversations, these subtleties multiply, and with body language and shared history coming into play, the words themselves can take second place to the vibe and tone of the occasion.
With the written word, however, it’s there on the page; a permanent record to be picked apart and analyzed. There should be no room for misinterpretation. This is why grammar is important. A misplaced word can alter meaning completely.
One of the words that seems to cause problems is ‘only’. As a general rule, the word ‘only’ directly affects the word that follows it. If you’ve ever struggled with where to place this word in a sentence, perhaps this will help.
Everyone understands the intended meaning of the famous sentence I’ve used for the title of this post, but let’s shift that ‘only’ around and see what happens.
1. Only you‘re supposed to blow the bloody doors off.
This means that you, and you alone are the one who is supposed to blow the bloody doors off.
2. You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.
We know this one. Blowing the bloody doors off is the extent of what you are supposed to do.
3. You’re supposed only to blow the bloody doors off.
You’re expected just to blow the bloody doors off, not to destroy them in some other way.
4. You’re supposed to only blow the bloody doors off.
Same as 3 but with a split infinitive.
5. You’re supposed to blow only the bloody doors off.
You’re expected to blow off the specific doors to which we refer, not any old random doors.
6. You’re supposed to blow the only bloody doors off.
The doors you are expected to blow off are the doors which are bloody, not any of the other doors.
7.You’re supposed to blow the bloody only doors off.
Now we’re getting silly. These are the only doors there are, they’re bloody, and you’re supposed to blow them off.
8. You’re supposed to blow the bloody doors only off.
You’re required to blow the doors off. Not in, out, or up into space. Just off.
9. You’re supposed to blow the bloody doors off only.
As the ‘only’ comes at the end of the sentence, it indicates that this is all that is required of you. Blow the bloody doors off and do no more. We’re done here.