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I was exercising on inversion in English. It came to my mind to write a sentence using the "not only, .... but also" pattern. I wrote:

I believe not only does it work perfectly, but also it outperforms the previous devices.

After this I thought something is wrong with this sentence and I started to search about similar topics. I found this discussion on the Cambridge Dictionary website:

To add emphasis, we can use not only at the beginning of a clause. When we do this, we invert the subject and the verb:

Not only did she forget my birthday, but she also didn’t even apologise for forgetting it


My questions:

  1. Is my sentence grammatically and idiomatically acceptable?
  2. Should I put the pronoun between but and also as what we can see in Cambridge's example?
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    Idiomatically, it should come between but and also in your sentence. Grammatically speaking, too, I wouldn't dispute with Cambridge. The pattern is Not only does [pronoun] ... but [pronoun] also... – P. E. Dant Sep 15 '16 at 23:28
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    @P. E. Dant: I think OP has made a rod for his own back by using "inverted do-support" unnecessarily. Straightforward I believe it not only works perfectly... puts not only where it should be (immediately before the first verb work, just as corresponding but also should come immediately before outperform, being the actual "remarkable bonus". OP's structure simply doesn't have the right elements in the right places so they can be properly juxtaposed (because as you say, we expect also to be followed by the all-important verb here, not just a pronoun). – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '16 at 0:41
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    ...In OP's first example we can remove I believe [that] because it's just a syntactically irrelevant "lead-in" that can be tacked on the front of any statement. Thus when we "undo" the S/V reversal we end up with X = it does work perfectly, Y = it outperforms the previous devices. But since we know the true contrast is between work [perfectly] and outperforms [previous devices], we don't really want the extraneous elements it does in X and it in Y. They're only there for syntactic reasons, but they interfere with the basic structure and semantics. – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '16 at 13:21
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    @Cardinal: P. E. Dant is quite right that idiomatically (in most contexts) we'd be expecting but it also outperforms. That's because we tend to think it's more important to have the "syntactic marker" also as close as possible to the main semantic element outperforms, rather than to keep the two parts of but also together. Whether to put the [pro]noun inside or after the but also element is a stylistic choice, not a grammatical rule. But here are at least two of us (plus Cambridge! :) who favour using the former option where possible. – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '16 at 15:09
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    Cardinal: I'm reasonably optimistic that someone who knows more than me about formal descriptive grammar will post a good answer here, but it's nice to know that at least some of what me and @P. E. Dant have said here may have been helpful. I'm sure all three of us are eagerly awaiting the next episode in this particular story. – FumbleFingers Sep 16 '16 at 16:01
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  1. Should I put the pronoun between but and also as what we can see in Cambridge's example?

It's fine for also to come at the beginning of a sentence (or in your case, of a declarative clause that's coordinated to another with and), but in that case it's a sentence adverb, and should be set off with a comma (or, in speech, with intonation):

[…] but also, it outperforms the previous devices.

Personally, I find that just a tiny bit stilted in your sentence, but it's not unidiomatic (let alone ungrammatical). Rather, I think your sentence just flows a bit better if you move also to modify only the predicate, as you suggest based on the Cambridge Dictionary example:

[…] but it also outperforms the previous devices.

More generally, Google Ngram Viewer shows that but it also is much more common than but also it.

Note, though, that this is only possible when it actually makes sense for also to modify just the predicate, e.g. because the subject in the second clause refers to the same person/thing/entity/whatever as the subject in the first clause. So in the following sentence, for example, you can't move the also after weather:

Not only were the people very friendly and welcoming, but also, the weather was clear and warm and dry. So everything about the trip was just perfect.

This is because there's actually nothing special about the also in "not only […] but also"; you can also use "not only […] but" with "too", "as well", "so", "even", and various other words and expressions whose meanings are the same as, or subsume, that of "also". (In fact, it's not unheard of to use "not only […] but" without any such expression at all; but I wouldn't recommend that.)

(By the way, I should mention that although in these examples, the position of also determines whether it's modifying the whole sentence or just the predicate, the position of also does not always determine exactly what it modifies. For example, in a sentence like "She also works there", also could be modifying either "works there" or "she". So, don't overgeneralize from the above examples.)


  1. Is my sentence grammatically and idiomatically acceptable?

Yes, except for the above. I'd also recommend adding a that after I believe, to make your sentence a bit more readable; "I believe not only" is a fairly intricate way to start a sentence. Google Ngram Viewer finds that "I believe not only" is as common as "I believe that not only", but if you look at the actual uses of "I believe not only" on Google Books, you'll find that very few of them mean the same as "I believe that not only […]". So in sentences like yours, "I believe that not only" is presumably much more common.

  • Thank you for the answer. Another question struck my mind: Can we use a phrase like the pronoun it- "......, but reading a great book is also helpful ..... ." – Cardinal Oct 12 '16 at 20:16

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