Style Quiz #14: Not Only . . . But Also

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences incorrectly establishes a relationship between two things with a setup of “not only” followed by a faultily constructed counterpoint; revise the sentences as necessary to achieve parallel construction.

1. Not only did he take us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles, but also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.

2. The board is not only generous in contributing directly, but also in their support of fund-raising.

3. He was a tremendous ambassador for not only the university, but for college football in general.

4. They believe that this step will not only change the fortunes of their students, but also the fortunes of their students’ families and communities.

5. Today’s workplace requires people who have mastered not only the academic basics, but who can apply their knowledge across disciplines.

Answers and Explanations

There are basically two counterpoint constructions involving the juxtaposition of “not only” and “but also”: If a verb precedes “not only,” the verb must apply to both things that follow (“[verb] not only [this] but also [that]”). If the verb follows “not only,” it applies only to the first thing, and the second thing must have its own verb (“not only [verb] [this] but also [verb] [that]”).

1.
Original: Not only did he take us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles, but also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.
Correct : He not only took us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles but also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.
Alterna.: Not only did he take us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles; he also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.

This sentence either should begin with the subject or should consist of two independent clauses.

2.
Original: The board is not only generous in contributing directly, but also in their support of fund-raising.
Correct : The board is generous not only in contributing directly but also in their support of fund-raising.

“The board . . . is generous” applies to both phrases, so it should precede “not only.” Otherwise, generous appears to apply only to the first phrase, leaving the second phrase without a parallel adjective.

3.
Original: He was a tremendous ambassador for not only the university, but for college football in general.
Correct : He was a tremendous ambassador for not only the university but also college football in general.
Alterna.: He was a tremendous ambassador not only for the university but also for college football in general.

Again, the initial phrase pertains to both comparative elements, and for should precede “not only” if it is not repeated; it should follow “not only” if it begins both phrases.

4.
Original: They believe that this step will not only change the fortunes of their students, but also the fortunes of their students’ families and communities.
Correct : They believe that this step will change the fortunes not only of their students but also of their students’ families and communities.

Change is pertinent to the fortunes of both students and their families and communities, so it should come before “not only.”

5.
Original: Today’s workplace requires people who have mastered not only the academic basics, but who can apply their knowledge across disciplines.
Correct : Today’s workplace requires people who have not only mastered the academic basics but can also apply their knowledge across disciplines.

Here, each phrase has its own verb, so “not only” should come before the first verb to show that mastered applies only to the first phrase. The pronoun who, then, is no longer necessary.

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1 Response to “Style Quiz #14: Not Only . . . But Also”

  • Diana Burke

    Thank for the interesting post.

    The second sentence under #1 in the answers, which you listed as correct, has a punctuation mistake: “Not only did he take us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles; he also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.” The semicolon should be a comma.

    In the first correct sentence under #1, I think the subject needs to be repeated in this sentence, which you listed as being correct. “He not only took us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles but also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.” I would word it this way: “”He not only took us on a journey through Picasso’s life and painting styles, he also situated the painting in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War.”

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