I read this sentence somewhere:

SpongeBob SquarePants became famous only in 2000's.

Is this equivalent to "SpongeBob SquarePants became famous in 2000's", or does it mean that the SpongeBob SquarePants lost popularity after some time?

  • Given that you "read this somewhere" and the sentence you quote in itself isn't correct - Would you mind giving context and source?
    – user98085
    May 30 '13 at 19:13
  • @FEichinger I read it in an article heading "famous animated series during 2000-10". I don't remember the source of the article. May 30 '13 at 19:48
  • Context could well be everything. Spongebob premiered in 1999 but only became really popular in 2000, at least according to its Wikipedia entry. May 30 '13 at 20:32
  • I think "only" there means "not before", even if before 2000 there were conditions, in an abstract sense, to have SpongeBob famous. In fact SpongeBob was exactly the same before and after 2000.
    – user114
    May 30 '13 at 21:01
  • Does my comment above make sense?!
    – user114
    May 30 '13 at 21:30

Two matters are in question here.

One is just what is meant by the 2000s. This is ambiguous: it might mean either the entire century (to date), or it might mean only the first decade, the “two-thousand oughts”, as opposed to the following 2010s. Without more context it is impossible to know.

The other is just what is meant by only. Only with a time expression bears the meaning “restricted to (the time named)” when the verb it modifies expresses a continuing action or state:

John studied English only in 2010 ... that is, not in 2009 or 2011, but only in the one year 2010.

But with a verb marking an achievement, in which a change of state is effected, only means “not until (the time named)”:

John graduated only in 2010 ... that is, John did not achieve his degree until 2010

Thus, your sentence would bear your interpretation if its verb were was:

SpongeBob SquarePants was famous only in the 2000's ... that is, not before 2000; and possibly (depending on how you understand 2000s) not after 2009.

But the verb BECOME signifies a change of state, so in the original sentence only has the not until meaning:

SpongeBob SquarePants became famous only in the 2000's ... that is, not until the 21st century.


"SpongeBob SquarePants became famous only in 2000's," means SpongeBob SquarePants became famous in the 2000's, and not before. (That is, not in the 1900s, even the 1990s).

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