In one of my essays I wrote a sentence like "It's only and only a start", trying to emphasize. My counselor corrected it as "It's only a start". Is it wrong or inappropriate to use the phrase "only and only", especially in an essay?

  • Did you try asking your counselor? – Victor Bazarov Sep 4 '15 at 20:16
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    This is not a use I've ever encountered in American English, so I'd be on the same side as your counselor. I'm not even certain what you mean by it. – Catija Sep 4 '15 at 20:16

In English*, that style of identical repetition for emphasis is seldom idiomatic. There are a few specific exceptions to that, but almost all of them emphasize a pair or sequence — head to head, little by little, and so forth — which is not the case here at all. Unless you're using one of those exceptions, it sounds quite foreign at best, and unintelligible at worst.

In this case, to emphasize "only" a bit more, you can either use typographic conventions like italics or bold, or put in an intensifying word like "really":

It's really only a start.

Similarly, to emphasize "start" more:

It's only just a start.

In either case, there is repetition, but it's not identical and doesn't use a conjunction.

*Perhaps Indian or South African dialects have more exceptions to this, but I would be surprised.

  • There are actually a lot of these: for ever and ever, hot and hot, out and out, by little and little, neck and neck, to hand and hand, round and round, share and share alike, pile upon pile, day after day, drop by drop, man for man, head to head — and many more like them. However, I think you are right that only and only is not one of these. – tchrist Sep 4 '15 at 20:55
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    @tchrist "hot and hot"? I'm not familiar with that one. – Catija Sep 4 '15 at 20:57
  • @tchrist, how is "neck and neck" or "head to head" for emphasis? And what is "to hand and hand"? – Victor Bazarov Sep 4 '15 at 21:02
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    @Catija: I hadn't heard of hot and hot before, so I just checked Google Books. Where I found Eric Partridge defines it as adj.—adv. and n. (Dishes) served, in succession, so soon as cooked. Probably a bit redundant in the age of the microwave oven! :) – FumbleFingers Sep 4 '15 at 21:26
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    It should also be noted that in all of the examples given, the repeated word is always either a noun or a verb. I can't personally come up with any example in common English where an adjective or adverb is repeated with a conjunction ("and", etc) in this way. – Foogod Sep 4 '15 at 23:22

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