5 Faulty “Not Only . . . But Also” Sentences

By Mark Nichol

Often, when a sentence expresses a point and a counterpoint with the phrases “not only” and “but also,” writers have difficulty constructing the sentence in the correct syntactical order. Each of the following sentences demonstrates various erroneous ways the “not only . . . but also” construction can be misused; discussions, followed by revisions, explain how to repair the damage.

1. Moving to the cloud had not only improved security but had also reduced the risks they faced prior to implementation.

Had can be shared by both the “not only” phrase and the “but also” phrase: “Moving to the cloud had not only improved security but also reduced the risks they faced prior to implementation.” (If had is to be used twice, it should follow “not only” and, when repeated, should follow “but also”: “Moving to the cloud not only had improved security but also had reduced the risks they faced prior to implementation.”)

2. They were all spending Monday night in New Hampshire—not only to get a jump on the impending storm but also on their competitors.

This sentence is incomplete; because “not only” precedes “to get a jump,” that phrase needs to be repeated after “but also.” Or, more simply, place the noun phrase before “not only” so it can be shared with “but also”: “They were all spending Monday night in New Hampshire—to get a jump not only on the impending storm but also on their competitors.”

3. The Broncos had not only lost the game, but they also lost their starting quarterback.

Because lost refers to both the game and the starting quarterback, that verb should precede both “not only” and “but also,” which obviates the need for the pronoun they: “The Broncos had lost not only the game but also their starting quarterback.”

4. The bill authorizes private entities to not only monitor their own networks for cybersecurity threats but also to share threat information with other private entities and the federal government.

The infinitive to precedes “not only,” so it applies to “but also” as well and does not need to be repeated after that phrase: “The bill authorizes private entities to not only monitor their own networks for cybersecurity threats but also share threat information with other private entities and the federal government.”

5. The Rockets had not only reshaped their own fortune but, as it turned out, that of the entire NBA.

Because reshaped refers to both the team’s fortune and that of the entire league, it must precede both the point phrase and the counterpoint phrase: “The Rockets had reshaped not only their own fortune but also, as it turned out, that of the entire NBA.”

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1 Response to “5 Faulty “Not Only . . . But Also” Sentences”

  • David Knuttunen

    My stodgy, mid-20th Century upbringing tells me that #4 should be re-written: “The bill authorizes private entities not only to monitor their own networks for cybersecurity threats but also to share threat information with other private entities and the federal government.” I know people don’t feel the same way about split infinitives as they once did, but it still makes me cringe, a little, to boldly go there…

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