3 “Not Only . . . but Also” Errors with a Choice of Solutions

By Mark Nichol

One of the most persistent and pernicious types of syntactical errors is the misuse of the point-counterpoint “not only . . . but also” construction. For each of the following three sentences, the discussion that follows offers not only one revision but also an additional option.

1. The loss or theft of intellectual property not only could undermine a company’s ability to compete but damage its brand and reputation in unanticipated ways.

A minor but common error here is the omission of also in the “but also” setup for the counterpoint. The more significant problem is that if the verb associated with “not only” follows it, “but also” must be followed by a repetition of the verb or by a different but corresponding verb. Alternatively, move could to precede “not only,” and it can serve “but also” as well without the need for repetition:

“The loss or theft of intellectual property not only could undermine a company’s ability to compete but also could damage its brand and reputation in unanticipated ways.” (Could can, alternatively, intervene between but and also.)

or

“The loss or theft of intellectual property could not only undermine a company’s ability to compete but also damage its brand and reputation in unanticipated ways.”

2. It is imperative to not only design and implement appropriate corporate governance processes but also to assess the risks businesses can reasonably expect to face in the future.

If to precedes the “not only” point, it also applies to the “but also” counterpoint, so the to immediately following “but also” is extraneous. If that other to is to be retained, the first one must be moved to follow “not only” to be in parallel to the one that follows “but also”:

It is imperative to not only design and implement appropriate corporate governance processes but also assess the risks businesses can reasonably expect to face in the future.”

or

“It is imperative not only to design and implement appropriate corporate governance processes but also to assess the risks businesses can reasonably expect to face in the future.”

3. Not only does the product clean lint on clothing, but also the interior of handbags, lampshades, curtains, furniture, car seats and flooring, animal fur, broken glass, and so much more.

Here, both revisions also involve a slight rewording of the initial proposition and the follow-up so that readers do not get the mistaken impression that the product cleans lint from everything listed; the lint-removal aspect pertains only to clothing, though the product cleans everything else. Both revisions clarify that distinction, but the latter version is also more direct:

“Not only does the product remove lint on clothing, it also cleans the interior of handbags, lampshades, curtains, furniture, car seats and flooring, animal fur, broken glass, and so much more.”

or

“The product not only removes lint from clothing but also cleans the interior of handbags, lampshades, curtains, furniture, car seats and flooring, animal fur, broken glass, and so much more.”

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