The lake is only the ninth largest lake in the area at 395 miles (620 kilometres) in length and 46 miles (74 kilometres) in width, yet it is easily the largest body of fresh water in the world.

What’s wrong with “only the …, yet it is…”? Should “only the” be replaced by “not only” or am I missing something?

  • 1
    Hello and welcome to the ELL. On this site it is better to ask one question at a time. Have a look at the tour to learn how to do that.
    – fev
    Jul 17 at 16:46
  • Thanks for editing. I have an answer, so tag me in a comment when this question opens again
    – gotube
    Jul 17 at 20:48
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    The problem with it isn't its use of "only." It has two problems: one, "in the area" is too subjective and vague to be used with giving something a ranking of ninth-largest; two, a lake can't possibly be only the ninth-largest in the area yet be the largest body of fresh water in the world, not unless you're using two different definitions of "largest," which would need to be stated, like by saying "the ninth-largest in area" (different than "in the area," "in the area" meaning in the vicinity and "in area" meaning in square miles of surface) and then saying "yet the largest in volume." Jul 17 at 23:11
  • Hard to imagine that the world's biggest fresh lake is a neighbor to eight even bigger salt lakes! Jul 18 at 1:53
  • @gotube, It appears that the question is open to comments again, thanks
    – Lukas
    Jul 18 at 5:37

You have in fact missed something. We use the "not only . . . but" structure when we want to show how a similarity between things intensifies the meaning. For example:

Stephan is not only the ninth most handsome man in the world, but he is also the third most intelligent.

The point of the sentence is that Stephan is a special person in many ways.

In the Lake Baikal example, the author means to contrast the two qualities. It is surprising that the largest lake by volume should be the ninth largest by area. Intuition suggests that the largest lake by volume should also be the largest lake by area.

This is the context in which "only" makes sense.

Yes, it is true that Lake Baikal is the largest in volume. But it is only the ninth largest in area. Isn't that surprising?

  • Thank you so much for your reply What I got from your answer is that "not only ... but" structure is used to draw similarity, while "only ... yet" applies for contrasting, Is that so? Speaking of that paradox you've mentioned, I suppose taking "freshwater" into account justifies the way it is. Like contrasting between salt water and fresh water.
    – Lukas
    Jul 18 at 7:27
  • I think you understand! Jul 18 at 7:37

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