Is 'also' necessary in "not only... but also..." structures?


The car not only is economical but also feels good to drive.

I identified with Rowan Atkinson not only as an actor but also as a person.

Yes, both sentences, as they stand, are perfectly acceptable English, but I wonder if one can correctly rewrite them without the word also. If not, why not?


Posted 2013-01-28T18:46:21.743


Is removing "BUT" acceptable? – Mistu4u – 2013-01-28T18:48:02.603

@mistu, no, it is not. – None – 2013-01-28T18:50:34.160

What made you think "Not only....But" can be plausible? – Mistu4u – 2013-01-28T18:51:27.137

@mistu, I'm unsure, perhaps I have heard this from someone. – None – 2013-01-28T19:02:10.007

I don't think any close reason would be appropriate here, especially I don't think this question is closeable as NARQ. – None – 2013-01-28T20:10:14.560

@Flimzy, thank you. I have edited the question title with the hope it is more clear now. – None – 2013-01-28T20:55:13.393

1@Carlo_R.: I think it's a perfectly good question for ELL (but I'd have probably called GR on ELU). The fact that Mistu4u wonders whether "but" could be omitted, and even StoneyB has misgivings about omitting "also", is surely evidence that there's a degree of uncertainty about this particular "stock" construction. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-28T23:17:47.713



Strictly, the idiom requires parallelism. Not is paralleled by but, and only also needs a parallel. It need not be also; it may be too or as well or in addition, anything which will complete the contrast with only:

I identified with Rowan Atkinson not only as an actor but as a person, too.

You may very well hear the also or equivalent dropped in speech. This is not a casual use, but a (venial) mistake which occurs because in speech we often lose track of our syntax.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-01-28T18:46:21.743

Reputation: 176 469


Is it really correct to call not only...but also an "idiom"? Besides which, although it's a common construction, I don't see why you should imply that not only must always be accompanied by something like also or too. Here are thousands of instances of not only as a man, but as a xxxx, where hardly any of them do this.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-28T22:13:05.580

@FumbleFingers The construction sounds lacking to me. I keep waiting for the too to drop ... It's different with just or merely, but that only demands completion. (And it's only 60 uses - but the construction with also is only 50, which I suppose would be supplemented with as well or too constructions. SSS, as my baseball friends say.) – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-01-28T22:31:17.303

Weird. "About 14,800 results" turns out to be only 48 when I page through to the end. On the other hand, if I include the word also, it starts off by claiming 1,400 results, and that turns out to be only 40 when I try to page through. I think GB is limiting the number of results returned, as well as/rather than just making lousy estimates. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-28T22:39:14.093

1@FumbleFingers I never trust those numbers at the top. You'll notice, too, that whatever your search term, a lot of the hits don't document the use; and on every occasion when I've actually searched the indicated book I found no instance. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-01-28T22:52:08.380

Yeah, but I find it unlikely there really are only those few dozen instances of each of those search terms, in 10's of millions of scanned books. I also suspect that 10:1 ratio in the "guestimates" does reflect a real tendency, though it could be out by a factor of 2 or 3, or even more. I just find GB easier to use than COCA, BNC, etc., for a *very* rough guide. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-28T23:10:05.200

@FumbleFingers "Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence" ... but it's not evidence of anything else, either. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-01-28T23:33:04.143

2I believe it's fair to say there are three certainties in this life - death, taxes, and the truth of the statement that absence of evidence proves that either there is no evidence, or we haven't managed to find it yet. We can still make credible conjectures though - we just have to remember they're always subject to change if and when further information becomes available. And we should actively seek out that additional information - I think Aristotle rather dropped the ball when he didn't even bother to *count* the legs on an insect. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-01-28T23:47:05.237