The Balancing Act with The Not Only … But Also Construction—Part 2

In our previous article, we presented the theory behind the not only … but also construction. You’ll remember that this construction is a correlative conjunction. The key to the correct presentation of not only … but also is balance.

Let’s look at a couple of examples from leading dictionaries accessed online.

She not only wrote the text but also researched the photographs (Oxford Living Dictionaries 2017).

This example uses the same part of speech and the same tense (past tense)—that is, the verbs ‘wrote’ and ‘researched’. There are no commas needed because it is a simple sentence—a sentence containing one subject (‘She’) and two verbs.

This investigation is not only one that is continuing and worldwide but also one that we expect to continue for quite some time (Cambridge Dictionary 2017).

What comes after the not only … but also construction are parallel phrases—both refer to the singular ‘investigation’ at the beginning of the sentence. Again, no commas needed.

Lily eats not only string beans but also broccoli (Merriam-Webster 2017).

In this sentence, two nouns (‘string beans’ and ‘broccoli’) have been used, ensuring this construction is parallel. An incorrect version of this might be:

Lily eats not only string beans but also runs.

This example is unbalanced because ‘string beans’ is a nouns and ‘runs’ is a verb.

The candidates campaigned not only in Perth but also in Darwin.

The balance of these elements is perfect. Two prepositional phrases of equal weight have been used. No commas needed because it’s a simple sentence containing one subject and one verb.

And here’s the final example:

Not only did Emily start playing the piano before she could speak, but her mother taught her to compose music at a very early age.

This is where it gets a little more interesting. We can leave out also when the sentence sounds natural without it. We can use not only at the beginning of a clause. When we do this, we invert the subject and the verb. And a comma is needed to set off the introductory element.

If you have a niggling doubt about the balance of your sentence when using this construction, ask yourself these five questions:

1.     Does each clause depend on each other to form a complete thought?

2.     Does each clause use the same part of speech and tense?

3.     Does my sentence make sense?

4.     Does my sentence sound natural?

5.     If I omit not only … but also and insert and between the two elements, does my sentence still make sense? (Give this one a try with the examples above.)

If you can say ‘yes’ to each of these questions, you’re likely to have used the construction correctly.

The pitfalls

There are pitfalls when using not only … but also. For one, it can be overused in writing, particularly in academic writing, resulting in repetition and wordiness. Two, it can create too complex a construction with too many twists and turns.

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