Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Interestingly, there are some sentences using "only until", for example:

You can dance professionally only until you're about 30.

The meaning of this sentence is quite clear to me:You can't dance like a pro until you are over 30. But not the ones of the following sentences/phrases:

Handsome, stubby-legged pup has only until tomorrow (Is it a correct expression?)

Savings were made by increasing the electricity supply only until it met specific development needs. (Increase the supply only, until...,or increase the supply, only until...?)

Eating Slowly and Only Until Satisfied (until, or only until? it's quite confusing to me.)

Eternal peace lasts only until the next war (It seems easy. But then the first sentence above should be: you can dance like a pro only before you are 30?)

A little puzzle...

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Your understanding here is the opposite of the actual meaning.

An until [TIMEPOINT] phrase marks the end of a state or activity. (See this question.)

I worked until 5 o'clock means my work ended at 5 o'clock.
I lived in New York only until I was 17 means that at 17 I moved away from New York.

Adding only to this merely emphasizes that the state or activity does not or cannot extend beyond TIMEPOINT. It is typically employed when the time limit is especially rigorously enforced or is shorter than expected or desired.

You can work only until 5 o'clock; you are not allowed to stay in the building after that.
I lived in New York only until I was 17, when I went away to college; so although I am a "native New Yorker", I know very little about what is happening there now.

Consequently, "You can dance professionally only until you are about 30" means that every dancer's career ends at about 30, when most people pass their physical peak.

Similarly:

  • The pup will not live beyond tomorrow if it is not adopted.
  • The electrical supply was not increased beyond the point where specific needs were met.
  • You should not eat beyond the point where you are no longer hungry.
  • Eternal peace will not last beyond the beginning of the next war.
share|improve this answer

You have the interpretation of the first backwards. It means you can dance professionally while you are younger than 30.

In these expressions, 'only' is used to emphasize the ultimate time, first two, or ultimate goal, second two.

Otherwise, with our without 'only' the phrases are essentially identical except including 'only' carries a subtle implication that there could be a undesirable consequence in store.

Eat slowly and only until satisfied [because you may eat too much and get sick].

share|improve this answer

Will you ask this question only if you expect a correct answer?

Will you ask this question until you have a correct answer?

Will you ask this question only until you get an correct answer?

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.