Style Quiz #8: Not Only… But Also

By Mark Nichol

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

1. Not only did she mimic his voice, but her descriptions were replete with meaning.

2. It became clear that he was describing not only a fantastical land of his imagination but also offering an insight.

3. Not only did John bring an inspired sense of focus to the classroom but also embodied that inspired sense of focus.

4. They’re not only loud but also messy.

5. Jane wrote not only a technically detailed and highly informative report but also expressed great environmental awareness.

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 she mimic his voice, but her descriptions were replete with meaning.
Correct : Not only did she mimic his voice, but her descriptions were also replete with meaning.

This sentence is merely missing also, recommended in formal writing (“but . . . as well” is an acceptable alternative)

2.
Original: It became clear that he was describing not only a fantastical land of his imagination but also offering an insight.
Correct : It became clear that he was not only describing a fantastical land of his imagination but also offering an insight.

Each of the counterpoints includes a verb, so “not only” must precede the first verb.

3.
Original: Not only did John bring an inspired sense of focus to the classroom but also embodied that inspired sense of focus.
Correct : John not only brought an inspired sense of focus to the classroom but also embodied that inspired sense of focus.

John did both things described, so his name should precede “not only.” (Alternatively, punctuation and the replacement of the conjunction but with a pronoun can provide parallel structure: “Not only did John bring an inspired sense of focus to the classroom, he also embodied that inspired sense of focus.”)

4.
Original: They’re not only loud but also messy.
Correct : They’re not only loud but also messy.

The words describing qualities, loud and messy, are in parallel, one following “not only” and the other preceded by “but also”; this sentence is correct.

5.
Original: Jane wrote not only a technically detailed and highly informative report but also expressed great environmental awareness.
Correct : Jane not only wrote a technically detailed and highly informative report but also expressed great environmental awareness.

As in the second example, the person did two distinct things, so “not only” should precede the first verb.

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