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Bob Moore sent in a link to a story (Brooke Crothers, "Windows 10 will only work on newest PCs, says Microsoft", Fox News 1/18/2016), and commented:

I was confused when I saw this, because I am already running Windows 10 on several older PCs. When I read the article, I realized that what they meant to say was "Only Windows 10 will work on newest PCs, says Microsoft".

As far as I can tell, the editor who wrote the headline must also have been confused, since as far as I can tell, "Windows 10 will only work on newest PCs" can't possibly mean "Only Windows 10 will work on newest PCs".

This opinion is not a prescriptivist judgment about how the language ought to be interpreted, like most complaints about the placement of only, but a simple statement of how the phrase works (or doesn't work) for me. (And I suppose for Bob as well.)

Here's the start of the Fox News article:

Microsoft just dropped a bombshell. Older versions of Windows will not be supported on the newest chips from Intel and others.  

The crux of a statement from Terry Myerson, executive vice president at Microsoft, is that new processors won’t run older versions of Windows reliably – and won’t be supported. “Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support,” Myerson wrote, in a blog post addressed to "enterprise customers," aka, businesses.  

So, in the future, don’t expect to be able to run Windows 7, for example, on the newest 6th Generation Intel Core “Skylake” processors that are shipping in systems today.

I guess it's possible that there are English speakers who interpret only so as to make the headline fit the content of the article. But it seems more likely that the headline writer misunderstood the article, or just typed the wrong thing in a fit of distraction, or something like that.



  1. Guy said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

    Slightly off-topic, but do we all agree that a clause modified by "only" vouches only for the negation of the truth of the clause when other parameters are substituted for the item that has focus, and does not vouch for the truth of the clause without "only", but at best carries that as a presupposition or implicature? For example, "only you can do this" only means that nobody who isn't you can do this, but does not necessarily say that you can do this, although that is usually pragmatically understood?

    In other news, I'm beginning to be semantically satiated with "only" and I also feel that the spelling is odd.

    [(myl) The fact that "only if" is not the same as "if and only if" suggests that you're right.]

  2. Scott said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 7:31 pm

    @Guy: I'm not sure that's true. If that were the case, you could say something like "Only you can do this. In fact, you can't do this either." But that's nonsensical, to my ears at least.

  3. Guy said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

    Slightly more on topic, the linked prescriptive advice seems to make the common error of overgeneralizing a pattern (which was of course your point in linking to it): they correctly (it seems to me) note that when "only" is modifying a complement or adjunct, it must have focus on the item modified. They then mistakenly think that if "only" is next to the verb, it must have focus on the verb, but really post-auxiliary position (here I use "post-auxiliary" to include between the subject and the verb in a clause without an auxiliary verb) is usually the most natural position for "only" regardless of which part of the predicate has focus, and when it is in post-auxiliary position it is syntactically modifying the entire verb phrase. Then because the facts do not accord with their not fully-considered theory, they take the common tack of saying that the constructions that they can't explain are "illogical", instead of adjusting their theory to account for them. "Only" takes other positions only when necessary for emphasis or disambiguation, and perhaps in other sporadic cases such as complexity and, as here, to avoid repetition of "only". And disambiguation is not necessary as often as they seem to think, which seems to be always.

    Refusing to put "only" in post-auxiliary position whenever focus is not on the verb itself would often lead to awkward and stilted writing, it seems to me. Although it is probably beneficial to consider whether there is ambiguity that can be dispelled by moving "only", their example sentences are terrible for demonstrating that point. The very fact that they (justifiably) expect the reader to be able to identify the item that has focus so that the "only" can be moved to the "correct" position is all the proof I need that there is no ambiguity to be dispelled and the sentences are fine just as they are.

    In any event, I agree with your judgment that a post-auxiliary "only" can never have focus on the subject. This is similar to the fact that when negation has scope over quantification in the subject, the negation wants to be attached to the subject and strongly resists negation with a negative verb or post-auxiliary "not".

  4. Rebecca said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

    Im inclined to agree that the headline writer just didn't understand the article, but another possibility: Maybe the original headline was "Windows 10 only will work on newest PCs…"
    which, for me, is ambiguous between the intended reading and the wrong one. Then it only takes a little peeving to change the word order

    [(myl) This makes sense, though in that context even "X only will work" rather than "Only X will work" is still an odd choice. But it's not flat-out wrong, which is a step forward.]

  5. Scott said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

    I found the linked article offensive in its wrongness.They take a series of perfectly normal sentences, perversely misinterpret them, and then use their misinterpretations as evidence the sentences are incorrect.

    Pretty much any sentence containing "only" is formally ambiguous, if you're willing to look hard enough for the ambiguity.

  6. Guy said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 8:05 pm


    That does seem like a very odd statement, but "Only you can do this, and I'm not even sure you can either" is fine for me (is it for you?), and seems like a straightforward cancellation. It's hard for me to contextualize your example to where it would be justified even if "only" does mean what I suggest, other than intentional humor. Still, your example combined with mine seems to suggest that what we're dealing with here has properties that are more like presupposition than conventional implicature. It has other presupposition-like properties. Consider "he's not only here to talk", which at least seems to presuppose that he's here partially to talk, but perhaps in a cancellable way. "I don't think he's only here to talk" seems more easily cancelled than "I don't think he's stopped beating his wife" (although the latter can of course be cancelled: "if he ever beat her to begin with").

  7. Guy said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 8:18 pm


    I thought about citing "only if" versus "if and only if" as support, but I was concerned that they might be too easily explained away as non-compositional idioms to really be persuasive. "If and only if", in particular, is often thought of as a term of art in math and logic. Still, they do seem to have straightforward compositional interpretations under my suggestion.

  8. James said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 8:18 pm

    I'm sorry for commenting on Guy's thought and not on the actual blog entry, but:

    Announcers for NFL football games will sometimes say of a quarterback, "He threw that pass where only his receiver could catch it." Watching with my son one time, I remarked that the announcer's claim would be true if the quarterback threw the ball into the ground, or to a spot where nobody could possibly catch it. My son disagrees. But like Guy I think the implication that "his receiver could catch it" is implicature, not asserted content (or presupposition). For me, it's cancelable ("… and in fact the receiver couldn't get to it either"), for instance.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 10:34 pm

    Guy: For me (I don't know about Scott), "Only you can do this, and I'm not even sure you can either" is a self-contradiction, probably a deliberate logic joke. It would make sense as "Only you can do this… and come to think of it, I'm not even sure you can either", as the speaker would be changing their mind about the facts. To express the meaning I think you have in mind, I'd say something like, "If anyone can do this, it's you."

  10. Scott said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

    @Guy, James
    "Only you can do this, and I'm not even sure you can either" is OK for me, but I take the second clause as refining the meaning of "can." I would paraphrase it as "Only you could potentially do this, and I'm not sure you're actually capable of doing so."

    What happens with a straightforward positive statement? If someone were to say "Only Bob likes football" I would take that as necessarily implying two things:
    1. Bob likes football.
    2. No one else (in the group under discussion) likes football.
    These could be condensed into "A person likes football if and only if they are Bob." If I wanted to imply just 2, I would have to say something like "No one besides Bob likes football," which very strongly suggests 1 but doesn't necessarily affirm it.

    If I told you that "Only Bob likes football," and you then discovered that he does not, would you consider my statement to have been truthful?

  11. Michael Watts said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 2:47 am

    A slightly different situation for "only you can do this" — imagine something like "only the king can do that… and with the state the country's in right now, he'd never get away with it either". The only-clause states that there's a rule prohibiting anyone who isn't the king from doing "that" (and, presumably, allowing the king to do it). The second one states that the king in fact can't do "that", despite being allowed to, for pragmatic reasons. I don't think they conflict.

  12. Guy said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 4:23 am


    I'm really not sure I would consider that untruthful, any more than I would consider it untruthful if someone said "I haven't quit smoking" when they never started (you can't quit if you don't start, right?) although in most situations it would certainly be misleading and not really an appropriate statement to make. More to the point, "that's a lie!" would strike me as a really inappropriate way of making an objection to the statement on the grounds that Bob doesn't like football. "Bob doesn't like football either" would be the most natural way of making that objection. "Only Bob likes football, if anyone" is perfectly possible, but that doesn't show much. "Only Bob likes football, and he doesn't either" certainly seems self-refuting, but it's also seemingly impossible to contextualize. "I'm doing the survey and so far only Bob likes football, but I haven't asked him yet" strikes me as seriously not right, I suppose this could be argued to be an example of a very strong implicature (certainly stronger than "nobody besides Bob likes football", which works here) but it's starting to look like presupposition.

    I think I feel pretty confident it has to be either presupposition or implicature, not foregrounded asserted content. There's maybe room for the position that it is both presupposed and entailed, but not foregrounded (like how "she knows that X" both presupposes and entails X). In favor of implicature (and against entailment), we have the meaning of "only if" – which really doesn't entail "if" – we have my example, for those who find it acceptable, and we have Michael Watt's example, although that's amenable to the "varying standards of possibility" argument also. In favor of presupposition (with entailment?), we have the fact that I can't think of a natural example that doesn't involve modality and the fact that it exhibits classic presupposition behavior like preservation under negation (though we need to negate "only" -> "not only", ordinary clausal negation doesn't work), the ability to "bleed through" reported speech and create an attribution problem, the need to object by more nuanced means than mere denial, and a need for explicit cancellation, though implicature can have these properties as well.

  13. Michael Watts said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 5:05 am

    it exhibits classic presupposition behavior like preservation under negation (though we need to negate "only" -> "not only", ordinary clausal negation doesn't work)

    It's not obvious to me how to just negate "only". Take the example at hand, "only Bob can do that". I could substitute "not only" for "only", but I don't think the sentence "not only Bob can do that" is well-formed. If I wanted to express the opposite (wrt the "only"-based restriction) of "only Bob can do that", I'd say "it's not just Bob who can do that", but all kinds of different transformations have been applied to that sentence, including completely replacing the word "only".

  14. James said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 7:00 am

    Scott, that's a good point about 'can'. It makes it harder to figure out what's going on in my example.
    But I basically agree with Guy — 'only p' implicates and perhaps presupposes p but does not entail it.

    Scott, you say "Only Bob likes football" is equivalent to "A person likes football if and only if they are Bob." But remember Guy's point: you used 'if and only if', whereas if 'only p' really entailed p you could have used 'only if' alone. (Holy cow, good thing I didn't have to convey what I meant by saying that aloud!)

    Notice how it works when the noun being only-fied is a plural:

    "Only geniuses can pass this test."

    This can only mean that no non-geniuses can pass the test. It does not, I take it, entail every genius can pass the test; it is giving a necessary but not a sufficient condition. It somehow conveys (by entailment, presupposition, or implicature) that some geniuses can. And notice also that if you think these are equivalent:

    "None but the brave deserve the fair."
    "Only the brave deserve the fair."

    that's further support for the hypothesis that "the brave deserve the fair" is implicated, not entailed.

  15. Theophylact said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 10:28 am

    Surely future versions of Linux will run on the newest chips, so even "Only Windows 10 will work on newest PCs" is wrong.
    Of course, "Only version of Windows that will work on newest PCs is Win 10" is a lousy hed. How about "Newest Windows PCs will require Win 10"?

  16. cameron said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    I've heard English speakers from India and Singapore use "only" in some unusual ways. Perhaps in tech journalism circles these usages are becoming normal.

  17. Guy said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 12:37 pm

    @Michael Watts

    I wrote that late, but I think what I had in mind was something like "It's not true that only Bob likes football", which has the usual semantics of negation but isn't the canonical syntactic negation. That seems to me to still suggest that Bob likes football.

  18. BZ said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 1:48 pm

    "Only Windows 10 will work on newest PCs": Windows 10, but not anything else in some domain, will work on newest PCs
    "Windows 10 only will work on newest PCs" (only works if spoken): Windows 10, but not anything else in some domain, will work on newest PCs
    "Windows 10 will only work on newest PCs": Windows 10 will work on newest PCs, but not older ones
    "Windows 10 will work only on newest PCs": Windows 10 will work on newest PCs, but not older ones
    "Windows 10 will work on newest PCs only": Windows 10 will work on newest PCs, but not older ones

    By the way, to me this implies that non-Windows OSs will not work on newest PCs either, which is not true. Linux presumably will as well.

  19. Guy said,

    January 19, 2016 @ 3:18 pm


    I've also heard English speakers from India use "only" in ways that most other speakers don't use. I'm not sure but it seems to be a sort of emphatic particle or possibly an indicator that they are providing new information. I don't know whether this use is influenced by some word that exists in Hindi or another language, or whether it is a usage development native to the Indian English language community.

  20. George said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 9:19 am


    As an indicator that new information is being provided, I don't think that's specifically Indian (although an example or two would make it easier for me to see what exactly you're thinking of).

    I find nothing odd at all about using 'only' to suggest to the person I'm speaking with that additional information (which I then provide) exists which would tend to counter, or nuance, whatever position that person has been holding in the conversation so far. (Sorry, that was really heavy but I'm tired….). It's basically another way to say 'but'.

    "We need to get in a consultant to look at this"
    "Mmmmm, OK…. only we don't have a budget for hiring one."

  21. Usually Dainichi said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 10:43 am

    I'm trying to think of some witty joke about how I wasn't lying when I told all those girls: "I love only you".

  22. He said, she said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

    I think @Scott is being unfair to the author of the referred-to article, specifically when Scott says "I found the linked article offensive in its wrongness.They take a series of perfectly normal sentences, perversely misinterpret them, and then use their misinterpretations as evidence the sentences are incorrect."

    I am not defending the article. But I claim that there is nothing "offensive" about taking "perfectly normal" examples and examining what can go wrong with them, even if said examination forces us to briefly act unrealistically naive (or in stronger language, perverse). Not only is such an approach inoffensive, it is advisable.

    Pity the teacher casting about for an appropriate example to illustrate a new concept. The teacher needs the example to be simple and familiar because if the example itself is unfathomable, the to-be-illustrated concept will remain unilluminated. When introducing an abstract concept or technique, I initially seek an illustrative example with two traits. First, the example must be just complex enough to illustrate the concept or technique. Second the example must have an answer or outcome that is already known to the students. That way, the students can watch as the technique produces the expected answer or outcome.

    I remember learning how to take square roots by hand in elementary school. The teacher first illustrated the technique starting from perfect squares. That made sense to me, and I was NOT tempted to claim that the technique was pointless because "everyone knows that the square root of 196 is 14. Why are you teaching me this useless and arcane procedure?"

    To be clear: I not defending the original article. I can be convinced that it is wrong, even offensively so. But the reasons Scott cites for taking offense do not persuade me and seem dismissive of a legitimate and honorable didactic technique.

  23. Shanth said,

    January 20, 2016 @ 11:25 pm

    As an Indian English speaker, this construction felt sort of Indian to me, but I think the Indian English variant would be:

    "Windows 10 *only will* work on newest PCs, says Microsoft

    I think "only" following rather than preceding a noun phrase it is modifying is because most Indian languages (north Indian and Dravidian) mark this sort of exclusivity by a suffix or postposition. (see Hindi ही or Tamil மட்டும் / -எ )

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