without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively: This information is for your eyes only.
no more than; merely; just: If it were only true! I cook only on weekends.
as recently as: I read that article only yesterday.
in the final outcome or decision: You will only regret your harsh words to me.
being the single one or the relatively few of the kind: This is the only pencil I can find.
having no sibling or no sibling of the same sex: an only child; an only son.
single in superiority or distinction; unique; the best: the one and only Muhammad Ali.
but (introducing a single restriction, restraining circumstance, or the like): I would have gone, only you objected.
Older Use. except; but: Only for him you would not be here.
only too,
as a matter of fact; extremely: I am only too glad to go.
unfortunately; very: It is only too likely to happen.

before 900; Middle English; Old English ānlich, ǣnlich. See one, -ly

5. solitary, lone. 7. peerless; exclusive.

5. plentiful, common.

The placement of only as a modifier is more a matter of style and clarity than of grammatical rule. In a sentence like The doctor examined the children, varying the placement of only results in quite different meanings: The doctor only examined the children means that the doctor did nothing else. And The doctor examined only the children means that no one else was examined. Especially in formal writing, the placement of only immediately before what it modifies is often observed: She sold the stock only because she needed the money. However, there has long been a tendency in all varieties of speech and writing to place only before the verb (She only sold the stock because she needed the money), and such placement is rarely confusing. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
only (ˈəʊnlɪ)
1.  the only being single or very few in number: the only men left in town were too old to bear arms
2.  (of a child) having no siblings
3.  unique by virtue of being superior to anything else; peerless
4.  one and only
 a.  (adjective) incomparable; unique
 b.  (as noun) the object of all one's love: you are my one and only
5.  without anyone or anything else being included; alone: you have one choice only; only a genius can do that
6.  merely or just: it's only Henry
7.  no more or no greater than: we met only an hour ago
8.  (Irish) (intensifier): she was only marvellous; it was only dreadful
9.  used in conditional clauses introduced by if to emphasize the impossibility of the condition ever being fulfilled: if I had only known, this would never have happened
10.  not earlier than; not…until: I only found out yesterday
11.  if only an expression used to introduce a wish, esp one felt to be unrealizable
12.  only if never…except when
13.  only too
 a.  (intensifier): he was only too pleased to help
 b.  most regrettably (esp in the phrase only too true)
sentence connector
14.  but; however: used to introduce an exception or condition: play outside: only don't go into the street
usage  In informal English, only is often used as a sentence connector: I would have phoned you, only I didn't know your number. This use should be avoided in formal writing: I would have phoned you if I'd known your number. In formal speech and writing, only is placed directly before the word or words that it modifies: she could interview only three applicants in the morning. In all but the most formal contexts, however, it is generally regarded as acceptable to put only before the verb: she could only interview three applicants in the morning. Care must be taken not to create ambiguity, esp in written English, in which intonation will not, as it does in speech, help to show to which item in the sentence only applies. A sentence such as she only drinks tea in the afternoon is capable of two interpretations and is therefore better rephrased either as she drinks only tea in the afternoon (i.e. no other drink) or she drinks tea only in the afternoon (i.e. at no other time)

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. ænlic, anlic "only, unique, solitary," lit. "one-like," from an "one" (see one) + -lic "-ly." Distinction of only and alone (now usually in ref. to emotional states) is unusual; in many languages the same word serves for both. Ger. also has a distinction in allein/einzig.
Phrase only-begotten (1450) is biblical, translating L. unigenitus, Gk. monogenes. The O.E. form was ancenned.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


In addition to the idioms beginning with only, also see beauty is only skin deep; have an eye (eyes only) for; if only; in name only; not the only fish in the sea; one and only

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
We all offer our bodies and only a few are chosen, but it shouldnt reflect any
  special credit on those that are chosen.
Annoying people only works as a strategy if it's the only way to bring light to
  a legitimate, concrete grievance.
Nine new species that dine only on dead whales have been discovered, a new
  study says.
Primates can now move and sense the textures of objects using only their
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