The Taklimakan Desert, second in size only to africa’s Sahara Desert, occupies some 337,000 square kilometers.

Does this mean Sahara is the first and Taklimakan is the next in size? cause it is not!

What does only to mean in this sentence?

  • 2
    The cited text is syntactically correct, but factually it's completely wrong, as OP says. At 130 thousand square miles, the Taklimakan Desert doesn't even make the top 10 "world's largest deserts" (headed up by the Antarctic, Arctic, and Sahara deserts - all millions of square miles). May 31, 2018 at 12:33
  • 2
    Taklimakin is the second largest 'shifting sands' desert according to Wikipedia/maybe Britannica
    – TWhelan
    May 31, 2018 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


You're absolutely correct. That's exactly what it means: in terms of size, the Taklimakan Desert is second to Africa's Sahara Desert and no other desert on this planet. The adverb only is used to convey the idea that the Taklimakan Desert is second in size exclusively to the Sahara Desert - which means that the Sahara is the largest desert on the planet, while the Taklimakan Desert is the second largest. Only in this sentence is really used just for emphasis. Semantically, it does not carry a lot of weight:

The Taklimakan Desert, second in size exclusively to Africa's Sahara Desert, occupies some 337,000 square kilometers.

  • 2
    Two "Shara" Desert typos in your text.
    – RubioRic
    May 31, 2018 at 10:52
  • 1
    I searched the internet and I found that Sahara is the biggest while Gobi and Arabic deserts are second and third. Taklimakan is standing on 8th in table, and it is in China so it could not be the second in Africa. So the quotation is wrong? (Its feom Barrons’s essential word for IELTS)
    – Iman Nia
    May 31, 2018 at 10:55
  • 4
    I don't know much about deserts, but as far as the English as used in your sentence is concerned, I can only conclude that the Taklimakan Desert is the second largest desert on this planet. The largest one is the Sahara. That's what the sentence literally says. May 31, 2018 at 11:00
  • 2
    @Zich Skeptics has a question about varying claims for the largest desert on Earth, which has some pretty good answers (if I do say so myself). TL;DR: the Sahara is not the largest desert on Earth, not by a long shot, and the Taklimakan is quite a long way away from falling just after the Sahara. So while Michael is absolutely correct about what this sentence means, please note that the sentence’s claim is false.
    – KRyan
    May 31, 2018 at 14:15

The phrase 'second only to' is used when something is second in a sequence or list arranged in some order (size, area, cost, etc), and we wish to emphasise that there is only one thing greater, larger, more expensive.

second only to sth


If you say that something is second only to something else, you mean that only that thing is better or greater than it. As a major health risk, hepatitis is second only to tobacco.

Second only to (Collins Dictionary)

Although the Taklaman Desert is the world's 16th largest desert of all kinds, it is said to be second to the Sahara in a ranking of the world's largest 'shifting sand' deserts.

Taklaman Desert (Wikipedia)

  • The problem is Taklimakan is not the second desert in term of size in the the world neither in Africa, so could the quotation be wrong? It is also not possible cause it is from Barrons essential words in ielts. I am literally confused!
    – Iman Nia
    May 31, 2018 at 11:01
  • You can verify the accuracy of the statement by research. May 31, 2018 at 11:35
  • 1
    @Zich - We can only tell you want "only to" means. It's not our job to verify truthfulness or accuracy of the assertion. You don't even tell us where you found the original sentence!
    – J.R.
    May 31, 2018 at 16:40

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