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How do you use the word "alone" when you want to use it as a synonym for "only"?

The paints are so dry that I can't paint new pictures on them alone; I would need to find color pencils.

or should I say

The paints are so dry that I can't paint new pictures with them alone; I would need to find color pencils.

I'm hearing "alone" used a lot, but I can't quite grasp how people around me use that word. Is there a rule? Am I using it correctly in my examples? Thank you!

  • I might suggest in that specific instance that you replace "alone" with "just". "The paints are so dry I can't paint with just them; I'd need some colored pencils too." – TecBrat Jun 12 '13 at 4:41
  • People don't normally say "color pencils". They usually say coloured pencils, when they mean this imagemediapartners.com/Portals/20286/images/… – Tristan Jun 12 '13 at 11:47
  • I'd like to learn how to use the word "alone" in these instances, but I just can't quite grasp how I would use it correctly in my examples above. Is there a certain rule native speakers follow when using this word/phrase? – jess Jun 13 '13 at 4:50
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To edit the answer above - I don't think Wally is correct

Your first answer is not correct

The paints are so dry that I can't paint new pictures on them alone; I would need to find color pencils.

What you end up saying with this is that "the paints are so dry that you cannot paint new pictures on the paints by yourself"

The paints are so dry that I can't paint new pictures with them alone; I would need to find color pencils.

The with here makes the sentence correct but the 'them' before alone is confusing (are you talking about the pictures or the paints when you say this?)

You wouldn't really use 'alone' for this sentence in normal conversation.

Actually, I cannot think of an example in informal English where you would use alone in the place of only very naturally.

  • I don't agree that the wording of the second example is confusing, and it certainly doesn't sound like you're talking about the pictures. It sounds a bit stilted and overly formal for normal conversation, but not ambiguous. I agree with the rest of the answer, though. – Emmabee Jun 27 '13 at 20:31
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Firstly, the paints are what you are painting with, not on. The canvas is what you paint on.
Your use of the word alone is correct. "The paints are so dry I can't use them only," implying that you need something extra to soften them.

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I think you are referring to the use of "alone" in the context of something that is partially fulfilling. Your example sentences suggest the paints do nothing for you and that colored pencils would be an alternative. A more appropriate use of "alone" would be

I can't write a note with paper alone. I need a pen as well.

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