What is the function of only in this sentence?

He lost the game to his rival but he was only complimentary.

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Only is an adverb. It is a complement of the adjective complimentary. After losing a game, some people may be angry or spiteful at the winner. But not that person: he congratulated the winner, he was nice with the winner: he was complimentary. No other word is necessary to qualify his behavior, for example the compliments were not insincere: he was only complimentary. The word only puts some emphasis on the complimentary behavior.

  • 1
    Surely you mean it modifies complimentary? A complement to complimentary would be something like of his rival's performance. – StoneyB Sep 12 '13 at 23:26
  • So it's an emphasis...like "I'm only too happy to help you."? – user2492 Sep 12 '13 at 23:28
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    @kih1930 No, it's excluding all other possibilities: he wasn't rude, he wasn't resentful, etc. He was only complimentary (or just complimentary). Ex. "He only dates redheads." He does not date blondes or brunettes; he just dates redheads. – WendiKidd Sep 12 '13 at 23:43
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    I would say it's both, in a way. By excluding other possibilities (such as showing resentment or anger), it's an indirect way of emphasizing his graciousness. – J.R. Sep 13 '13 at 9:47