3 Types of “Not Only . . . But Also” Errors

By Mark Nichol

Confusion about the proper arrangement of words in sentences in which the correlative conjunctions “not only” and “but also” appear is manifested in various forms of erroneous syntax. The following sentences, accompanied by discussion and corrected versions, demonstrate three categories of mistaken sentence construction.

1. “Digital cameras are not only changing photography, but our lives.”
The placement of “not only” here implies that the sentence will refer both to changing and to some other action that will occur because of the existence of digital cameras. (For example, “Digital cameras are not only changing photography but also altering our culture’s norms about privacy.”) But because changing is the operative verb for both parts of the comparison, it should precede “not only” — and should be shadowed by also after the conjunction: “Digital cameras are changing not only photography but also our lives.”

2. “His hard work in math class has not only helped him make the most of his abilities but also to gradually improve them.”
The phrase “not only” is misplaced in this sentence — it should follow the verb phrase “has helped,” rather than be inserted between the two words — which is also complicated by an extraneous use of to before the phrase “gradually improve them.” That placement would be appropriate only if it matched a to inserted before “make the most of his abilities.” But to following a form of help and a noun or pronoun is unnecessary: “His hard work in math class has helped him not only make the most of his abilities but also gradually improve them.”

3. “I think of her both as an example of someone who does her work with care and pride but also as someone who treats others respectfully.”
This sentence mixes two phrasing forms for making comparisons: “both . . . and” and “not only . . . but also.” For the sentence to make sense, use one or the other: “I think of her both as an example of someone who does her work with care and pride and as someone who treats others respectfully” or “I think of her not only as an example of someone who does her work with care and pride but also as someone who treats others respectfully.”

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7 Responses to “3 Types of “Not Only . . . But Also” Errors”

  • Jan Arzooman

    I see these syntax mistakes quite a bit. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle to worry about it when there are more obvious errors. But maybe your reminder/lesson will help someone to correct his sentence before embarrassing himself.

  • thebluebird11

    #3 is a doozy. I would think you could simplify the whole thing by saying, “I think of her as an example of someone who does her work with care and pride, and [also] as someone who treats others respectfully.” I’m thinking the word “also” could be optional. Why complicate this simple statement with this both/and/also/not-only stuff? Save the complicated phrasing for something more earth-shaking!

  • Ray

    @thebluebird:
    A+1 to that, but then I don’t get paid by the word.

  • Ray

    Correction?
    (A +1 to that, but then”,” I don’t get paid by the word.)
    Would the second comma be correct here?

  • Girish Bangalore

    I think that the following is more concise,

    “I think of her as an example of someone who not only does her work with care and pride but also treats others respectfully.”

  • Curtis

    My first reaction to #3 was that it should be “I think of her AS both . . . ” instead of “I think of her both as . . . “. It’s that “her both” that gets me; it just seems all wrong.

    I’m with the bluebird on this on; I’d scrap that whole sentence and start over.

    If it makes anyone feel better, I know a guy who’d make an even worse mess of it.

  • thebluebird11

    @Curtis LOL I feel better already!

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