5 Tips for Fixing “Not Only . . . But Also” Errors
Few constructions cause as much consternation for editors as that in which a contrast is represented with the phrase “not only, . . but.” The solution to garbled syntax in such constructions is simple but bears repeating, so multiple sample sentences follow. But before we go any further, note not only that a comma following “not only” is unnecessary but also that also (or too or as well) is essential after but.
At its most basic, the erroneous sentence structure you will see played out in several variations here is “(Subject) (this) (verb) and (that).” The correct sequence is “(Subject) (verb) (this) and (that).”
1. “I not only knew where this person was shopping and how much he or she was spending, but the exact time of each transaction.”
For such a sentence to exhibit proper parallel structure, the verb following the subject must precede “not only” so that it applies to both parallel phrases, or the verb must be repeated. In the latter case, the sentence would read, “I not only knew where this person was shopping and how much he or she was spending; I also knew the exact time of each transaction.” This solution is correct but cumbersome. (I was tempted to write “not only correct but also cumbersome,” but one is favorable and the other unfavorable, so introducing parallel structure seems inappropriate.)
For clarity and simplicity, try this: “I knew not only where this person was shopping and how much he or she was spending but also the exact time of each transaction.” (Note also the insertion of also.)
2. “When the United Kingdom went through its mad cow mess, it had to bury not just the dead animals that had gotten sick, but had to change its butchering methods.”
That’s a clumsy (and erroneous) attempt to provide the verb twice. It’s far more elegant to compose the sentence so that a single had is strong enough: “When the United Kingdom went through its mad cow mess, it had to not only bury the dead animals that had gotten sick but also change its butchering methods.”
3. “Their drinking may not only reflect difficulties in sleeping and calming down, but the fact that their parents provided a chaotic and inconsistent home environment.”
This sentence almost sounds right, but may, the verb that precedes “not only,” is an auxiliary, or helper, verb; it’s playing second banana to reflect, which must also precede “not only”: “Their drinking may reflect not only difficulties in sleeping and calming down but also the fact that their parents provided a chaotic and inconsistent home environment.”
4. “Extended-stay lodging may not only fulfill a practical purpose but an emotional one.”
The error is most easily seen in sentences such as this one, in which the “but (also)” phrase is brief and noisily clatters to the floor, unsupported by the sentence structure: “Extended-stay lodging may fulfill not only a practical purpose but also an emotional one.”
5. “They understood that the devastation was not solely about the lack of water, but about the way the land had been used.”
This sentence, in which solely stands in for only, places the “not only” element correctly, but, again, the comma is extraneous, and an inserted also is not: “They understood that the devastation was not solely about the lack of water but also about the way the land had been used.”
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