Thomas Erdbrink, a journalist, in his news article "Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June" published on The New York Times uses a phrase which actracts me: with only months.

With only months to go in his last presidential term, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has surprised many of his critics by challenging a coalition of traditionalists.

Searching for "with 'X' months to" structures I came across several cases in which the month number is specified,

The “right to die” will apply only to those with six months to live or less.

With less than two months to live, John Doe teaches students about cancer and dying.

or in which "a few" is used,

[...] because he had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer with only a few months to live.

While examples above are clearly understandable, "with only months" is less, albeit that phrase has several hits on Google Search.

A trivial question, which I don't want to ask, could be "How many months does "only" mean?"

Insead I want to ask if that phrase is grammatical and if "only" can be used as a quantifier before countable nouns in plural form. Is it?


All the sentences are quoted from The New York Times.

1 Answer 1


Absolutely it is grammatical.

The general rule is that when you are dealing with a unit of measure, specifying "only (unit)s" implies that (a) the unit in question is part of a larger measure, and (b) the quantity involved is less than one of the larger measure. Months are a measure of time; so "only months to go" means "less than a year". Similarly, "only days to go" means less than a week (or possibly less than a month, since days are commonly grouped into either one of those); "only inches to go" technically should mean less than a foot, but is generally used metaphorically to mean a tiny fraction of some total distance.

In the case of countable nouns in general, you can indeed say something like "I had only apples to go", but that would be for a case where you are performing some action on a series of items, and apples were the last item in the series.

  • With only minutes to get the results, let's check in. Fridge Crisper Drawer is making steady progress with only apples to chill now. But with only spoons to wash, Dishwasher is looking like a strong contender. Oh! With only socks to gnaw, it's Dryer! Dryer in the lead! With only lint to go, no one can overtake Dryer for the win!
    – aedia λ
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 23:06

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