If only I had paid more attention to the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage when I was younger, I wouldn’t make so many mistakes today. I feel embarrassed because some people look to me for guidance about how to write better. Oh well, my mistakes help me to feel empathy for everyone who makes mistakes.
A reader gently pointed out a mistake I’ve been making for a long time. I’ve been misusing “only” in my affiliate disclosure. Here’s what I’ve been saying:
If you click on one of the Amazon links on this website and then buy something, I may receive a commission. I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I only link to books in which I find some value.
I’ve been putting “only” in the wrong place. The way it’s written now, it emphasizes that I link but don’t do other things with books in which I find some value. (In an extreme case, could this be interpreted to mean that I don’t read books in which I find some value?).
Instead, the last sentence should say, “I link only to books in which I find some value.” This version emphasizes that if I link to a book, it means I find some value in it.
An editor friend suggested this alternative: “I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my blog’s readers.” That could work, too.
The bottom line? Word placement matters. When using “only,” place it as close as possible to the word to which it refers. One tricky thing about placement is that “Additive/restrictive adverbs most often modify a word or phrase rather than an entire clause,” as discussed in Erin Brenner’s “Adverb Placement, Generally and Specifically” on the Visual Thesaurus website. For more on placement, read Grammar Girl’s “‘Only’: The Most Insidious Misplaced Modifier.”
I’m going to try to use “only” correctly in the future. But please forgive me if I don’t correct the gazillion examples of misplacement in this blog’s archives. I only have time to work on the new content.