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Only 12% and 17% of users played games and music on their phones in 2006, respectively.

Can I use merely in place of only in the above sentence? I haven't found any examples of merely preceding data in dictionaries.

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    I wouldn't advise it. To emphasise the smallness of the figure you could say A mere 12% (I don't know why the adjective is more idiomatic than the adverb here). Commented May 13 at 8:43
  • I thought about that but there are two figures. Commented May 13 at 8:51
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    That's why I included the article in my example! I didn't bother with the second figure, but it's fine to add it. You can use mere without an article before plural and uncountable nouns. Commented May 13 at 10:42
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    "merely" followed by a percentage is very well attested in Google Books. I find "a mere 10%" stronger than "merely 10%"; "a mere" to my ear suggests that the number is so small that it's trifling. "merely 10%" isn't quite as dismissive, at least that's my sense of the nuanced difference.
    – TimR
    Commented May 13 at 13:20
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    "Mere 12%" sounds weird, but "mere" doesn't always require "a". Mere is also often used with "the" rather than "a": Merriam-Webster gives an example "the mere idea of your traveling alone to Europe is ridiculous". "This mere" and similar are also found. It can be used with uncountable nouns: "mere life" and "mere existence" refer to the lowest level of life without anything pleasurable or elevating. You could also use it with a general plural noun without an article: "Mere animals..." It's commonly used of generalities not specific objects though.
    – Stuart F
    Commented 6 hours ago

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"Only" is both an adjective and an adverb. "Merely" is only an adverb so cannot be applied in the way that "only" is here (i.e. to the percentages of users). The adjective is "mere" and could be used as Kate says in the comments.

You could apply "merely" (or indeed "only") to "played" but that would change the meaning, i.e. "12% and 17% of users [only / merely] played games and music on their phones", meaning that they didn't do anything else.

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  • Only is an adverb. It can be replaced by other adverbs like precisely, exactly, approximately...
    – Stuart F
    Commented 13 hours ago

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