How and when to use the “Not only…but also” construction

not only but alsoThe construction “not only … but also …” is used to emphasise something that has more than one quality, or has done more than activity, where the final quality is especially surprising or noteworthy. It can be used to list adjective qualities, nouns or verbs, to show complimentary qualities, quantities or actions, events and states:

  • He is not only kind, but also generous.
  • The circus was comprised of not only magicians and clowns, but also many dangerous animals.
  • The band not only played instruments, but also danced.

When to use “not only…but also”

The “not only…but also” construction is most commonly used in formal contexts. This can be useful when presenting an argument stacking the positive or negative qualities of a character, an action or an event.

  • The government was not only effective in lowering taxes, but also helped to reduce unemployment through careful measures.
  • The riot was not only loud and violent, but also caused a huge deal of damage to the area.

The construction can list a flexible number of different qualities, objects or verbs (dealt with as a list), but the important thing to remember is that the one that follows “but also” is especially noteworthy.


How to form “not only…but also”

“Not only…but also” can come after the main subject and verb, splitting up a list that the main verb introduces:

  • I like not only strawberries but also bananas.

It can also come after an entire clause (following objects and direct objects) to describe the qualities of the main clause.

  • We walked through the hills not only when it was sunny, but also when it was raining.

To put extra emphasis on the comparative list, a clause can be started with “not only”, making the subject and main verb part of the list. To do this, the subject and verb (following “not only”), must be inverted. In the comparative clause, following but, also can sometimes come before the subject and verb, and sometimes after:

  • Not only was she smart but she was also very wealthy.
  • Not only was it later, but also it was raining.


Variations of “not only…but also”

“Also” is not always necessary, and can be either removed or (to emphasise something complimentary) replaced by “too” at the end of the second clause:

  • They were not only friendly, but helpful.
  • Skateboard tricks are not only difficult to do, but tiring too.

If the subject and verb are present in the second clause, “but” can also be removed for the same meaning, as long as “also” or “too” are used.

  • He not only raises dogs, he also takes care of cats.
  • I enjoy English because it is not only useful, it is interesting too.

The “not only…but also” construction can also be formed, with similar meaning and constructions with “not just…but also”. This is less formal:

  • It was not just fun, but also educational.


Not only…but also Exercise

Choose appropriate constructions from the notes above to form comparative sentences for the following lists. The subjects and qualities for comparing are given, but please think of your own verbs and structures (try to be ambitious!). The first question has been done for you.

  1. He – clever – good at basketball = He is not only clever, but also good at basketball.
  2. They – large group – well organised
  3. The performance – long – boring – expensive
  4. The new garden – large – beautiful
  5. My English homework – difficult –a long time
  6. Outside – dark– raining
  7. Park near my house – river – trees – children’s play area
  8. The new housing block – swimming pool – gym – underground club
  9. Restaurant across the road – bad food – rodent infestation
  10. English countryside – green – fresh – full of activities
  11. Our new teacher – considerate – interesting exercises
  12. The event on Saturday – brilliant showcase of musicians – many different stages – charitable


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