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Using 'not only . . . but . . . '

I often read student essays that incorrectly use the phrase “not only . . . but . . . ,” as in the following sentence:

Incorrect: Video games are not only a source of distraction, but they may force players to think.

There’s an easy fix for this often misunderstood construction: include the word also.

Correct: Video games are not only a source of distraction, but they may also force players to think.

Here’s another example:

Incorrect: This not only reduces the advisor’s time but produces fewer alternatives to evaluate.

Correct: This not only reduces the advisor’s time but also produces fewer alternatives to evaluate.

Notice that in this example, the writer does not use a comma; this punctuation is not necessary with the not only…but also construction if a subject is not given in the second half of the sentence, which would make it a compound sentence. If you don’t understand, consider this example again:

Correct: Video games are not only a source of distraction, but they may also force players to think.

In this example, a subject, they, is given in the second half, which makes this a compound sentence; therefore, a comma is necessary because it’s a compound sentence, NOT because the writer uses the not only...but also construction.

NOTE: you may substitute too or as well for also. Consider these examples again:

Correct: Video games are not only a source of distraction, but they may force players to think as well.

Correct: This not only reduces the advisor’s time but produces fewer alternatives to evaluate too.

The second sentence sounds a bit awkward with the use of too, so I would suggest the first construction:

Correct: This not only reduces the advisor’s time but also produces fewer alternatives to evaluate.

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$40p/h

Kimberly M.

Certified teacher in Writing, English, Grammar, Reading, & ESOL

50+ hours
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