Occasionally I see constructs like this in English sentences:

  1. Not only is this true in this case, but ...

What puzzles me is the "is this" part of it. The sentence is not a question, yet it seems to have a question-like order. Isn't this correct/preferred:

  1. Not only this is true in this case, but ...

Are there other cases where non-question sentences contain question-like parts (so to speak)?

  • Your #1 version is similar to the non-preposed alternate: "This is true not only in this case, but …" Notice that this alternate is not a question-type of sentence.
    – F.E.
    Mar 26, 2015 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


This (abridged) entry from Swan in Practical English Usage (p303) under the heading Inversion after negative and restrictive expressions provides the answer to your questions:

If a negative adverb or adverbial expression is put at the beginning of a clause for emphasis, it is usually followed by auxiliary verb + subject. These structures are mostly rather formal.

  • At no time was the President aware of what was happening.
  • Seldom have I seen such a remarkable creature.
  • Little did he realise the danger he faced.
  • Only then did I understand what she meant.
  • Not only did we lose our money, but we were nearly killed.

Here is a short Wikipedia article on inversion.

  • Thanks Shoe for pointing to Swan's book which I have. In mine (3rd edition) it's on p280 (section 302). I've tried finding answer in Swan before asking here but the problem is how to name what you are looking for hence I failed to find it there ;-).
    – ojkoorde
    Apr 1, 2015 at 7:56
  • @ojkoorde. Yes, that's a problem with an alphabetized grammar book such as Swan's. That said, I think that Swan is by far the best pedagogic grammar for English language learners.
    – Shoe
    Apr 1, 2015 at 8:15

Both forms are correct, but mean different things!

Not only is this true in this case, but ...

Means "This is true in this case. And somthing else. . ."

Not only this is true in this case, but ...

Means "This is not the only thing that is true in this case, the other thing is. . ."

The problem is what the word "only" modifies. "Only" will modify the next word in the sentence, so if the next word is "is" then it means "is" is the only thing that the subject does, but if it modifies "this" it means the subject is unique.

Normally "this is true" is a statement, and "is this true" is a question. But when you need to modify "is", you run into this problem. English is full of strange exceptions like this one.


"Is this" is not necessarily a question construct.

Consider the following:

The answer you've been looking for is this one right here.

The problem is this: We have no money.

When it's this time of day, no one's around to help us

But that's just a quick side-note. When not only is used at the beginning of a clause, that clause gets turned into a question. Imagine writing the sentence out like so:

Not only is it true, it's funny too.

Is it true? Yes. Not only that, it's funny as well!

Let's try it in a different example:

Not only can he play the violin, he can play the tuba!

Can he play the violin? Yes. Not only that, he can play the tuba!

  • 3
    -1 for When not only is used at the beginning of a clause, that clause gets turned into a question. Of course it doesn't! Mar 26, 2015 at 15:59
  • Well remove the "not only" interjection: "Not only can we do it" becomes "can we do it", which is written in its question form. The sentence "we can eat" becomes "can we eat" becomes "Not only can we eat". I was illustrating how to build a sentence using "not only".
    – Mark
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:03
  • 1
    Sorry, but I think it's hopelessly misleading to label all contexts where the verb comes before the subject as "questions" or "question form". Mar 26, 2015 at 16:05
  • Sure, then I respect your downvote. But I still think the process is solid.
    – Mark
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:05
  • 2
    Happy is the man who sticks to his principles. No question about it! :) Mar 26, 2015 at 16:50

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