I Only Want a Hot Dog (Are You Sure?)

I’ll be honest: I’ve been struggling about what to write on the topics of hot dogs or niche marketing. I don’t know much about either. I wasn’t sure I could generate enough enthusiasm for either topic.

But today when I saw this t-shirt advertised, I knew what I could get excited about…and that’s the abuse of the poor little four-letter word “only.”

If we want to communicate effectively, we must know our syntax. Every time I teach a writing class, I go on a rant about “only” and how everyone seems to have forgotten where to put it.

I saw an ad for cable TV the other day, saying, “Only pay for the channels you want.”

If they offer you fries with your hot dog and you don’t want fries, most of us will say, “I only want a hot dog.”

And the t-shirt in the above photo? That poor dog!

No, no, and no.

Pay ONLY for the channels you want. You want ONLY a hot dog. And don’t you think that in addition to talking to your dog today, you should also feed him and play with him? You’re only talking to him? 

And with apologies to Stevie Nicks, let me point out that thunder happens ONLY when it's raining. 

“Only” should go next to (or as closely as possible to) the word or phrase it modifies.

Would I break this rule if my character is a child or a regular Joe who talks like most of the population? Absolutely. Otherwise, as the great James J. Kilpatrick, my hero and author of TheWriter’s Art, would say…

If your only’s lonely, move it!

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear. 


  1. Well, I'm still going to talk only to my dog today. That sounds like a solid plan! Thanks for a great grammar post.

  2. Agreed--I love a good grammar post!


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