Consider the following dialogue:

A: Have you ever had a car accident?

B: I had a serious accident only last year.

Question 1. What does only convey here? Does it imply that B has been involved in a number of accidents, the most recent of which was last year? Or maybe B has had only one accident and it happened last year?

Question 2. Suppose we want to say something like "I have involved in many accidents and the one that happened last year is just one of them". Is there any equivalent sentence without using the words "just" or "only" (e.g., idiomatic expressions, etc)?

  • 1
    Yes, it means just in that context. It is more about the recency.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 8:26

2 Answers 2


1: The speaker is using "only" before "last year" because they are trying to convey and emphasise that even though the accident happened a year ago, to them, it feels like it happened a few days ago. It doesn't imply anything about other accidents B has had, it only emphasises the fact that, to them, only a small amount of time has passed between the accident and now. Also this could imply that they have been mentally affected by this accident meaning they could be traumatised from the event.

2: You could say something like "That accident last year was one of many". This would convey that you are a very bad driver and that you don't really care about any of the accidents. But this really depends on the tone of voice of the speaker.


Yes, "only" before a past time indicator conveys "recently". Obviously relative to the kind of event you're talking about. A serious accident, one hopes, is much less than annual. You might not want pizza because you had it only yesterday; you might need to avoid acetaminophen because you had it only an hour ago.

It's formal, rarer in speech. "Just" is more casual. If I saw your example sentence in a business memo, I'd mark the author as an above-average user of the language.

In casual speech "only" is very frequently put in random word order. "I only want you to bring me one slice" probably means "only one slice", though in context (or with tone of voice) it could mean that it's the only thing I want you to do. You kind of have to figure it out.

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