Whenever he could, he sought out a new road to travel. He had never been to that ruined church before, in spite of having traveled through those parts many times. The world was huge and inexhaustible; he had only to allow his sheep to set the route for a while , and he would discover other interesting things.

Does it mean that sometimes he had to follow the way which his sheep decided or wanted to go?

This text is from the book named " The Alchemist" by "Paulo Coelho.

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    You started with one question and finished with another. The first is about "set the route" and yes, the sheep chose the route and he followed them. The second question is about the use of had in "he had only to allow". It does not mean he had no choice - on the contrary it was a decision to follow the sheep. "I only had to stand on the street corner for a few minutes before children came up to me and asked questions." Jul 13, 2018 at 19:51

1 Answer 1


to have to do something means "to be required to do it" or "to find it necessary to do it".

I have to go to the dentist tomorrow.

I had to go to the dentist yesterday.


In this drought, if you want to get wet, you have to take a shower. There is no rain to stand in.

If we add only to such a statement, the necessity is not removed; only implies that what needs to be done is not difficult to do. There is one simple thing to be done.

If you want to get your clothes all wet on Fifth Avenue, you have only to stand on the sidewalk next to a puddle and wait for a car to go by.

All you have to do is stand on the sidewalk next to a puddle and wait for a car to go by. Easy-peasy. Instant sopping mess.

If you want to watch TV, you have only to click this button on the remote control.

So, all he had to do was allow his sheep to determine the route and then new and interesting things could be discovered. He had to give up control and let the sheep decide.

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