“Not only…but also…” is a very powerful and useful structure that you can use to add emphasis to your arguments.
However, the grammar related to this structure can be a little tricky.
In this lesson you’ll learn about the principle of “inversion” (when the normal sentence structure changes into a question structure) and how to use it in IELTS Writing Task 2.
The meaning of “Not only but also”
Look at the 4 sentences below. They are all grammatically correct, and they all mean the same thing.
So what is the difference between them?
1. I can speak English and French.
2. I can speak both English and French.
3. I can speak not only English, but (also) French.
4. Not only can I speak English, but I can also speak French.
They are different only in terms of how much emphasis the speaker puts on the fact that they can speak 2 languages.
#1 – simply states the facts
#2 – ‘both’ adds emphasis to the fact that they speak more than one language
#3 – ‘not only’ adds more emphasis, especially to the new information (I speak French too!)
#4 – The heavy emphasis of ‘Not only’ at the start of the sentence suggests that speaking these two languages is something amazing!
In Spoken English, you can use your voice (intonation) to add emphasis, but in Formal Written English (example 4), ‘Not only’ + inversion helps you add emphasis.
You can use ‘Not only…but also’ to add emphasis to what you’re saying, so it’s really useful for example in Writing Task 2 when you want to write about advantages/disadvantages:
- Cycling is good for our health and the environment. (Band 5)
- Cycling is good for both our health and also for the environment. (Band 6)
- Not only is cycling good for our health, but it is also good for the environment. (Band 7)
‘Not only but also’ GRAMMAR (inversion)
Look at the sentences below.
What happens when you use ‘Not only’ at the START of the sentence?
1a I can speak English and French.
1b Not only can I speak English, but I can also speak French.
You will notice that after ‘Not only‘, the normal word order changes to a QUESTION word order (Can I speak English?)
The normal word order is inverted (changed).
This is quite simple with modal verbs (e.g. can, will/would and should) because you don’t need to worry about auxiliary verbs (is/are/was/were, do/did and have).
2a It will affect both animals and people.
2b Not only will it affect animals, but it will also harm people.
3a We should ban the use of both plastic and fossil fuels.
3b Not only should we ban the use of plastic, but we should also ban fossil fuels.
Watch us practise ‘Not only but also’ in this video:
Inversion with auxiliary or 'helping' verbs
We saw above that you need to turn the statements into a ‘QUESTION’ word order when you put ‘Not only’ at the START of the sentence.
4. Cycling is good for our health and the environment.
- Question Form: Is cycling good…?
- Not only is cycling good for our health, but it is also good for the environment.
5. It wasted time and money.
- Question Form: Did it waste…?
- Not only did it waste time, but it also wasted money.
6. I’ve been to London and Tokyo.
- Question Form: Have I been…?
- Not only have I been to London, but I’ve also been to Tokyo.
7. My phone has both a camera and a stylus.
- Question Form: Does my phone have...
- Not only does my phone have a camera but it also has a stylus.
8. The food tasted awful and it was cold.
- Question Form: Did the food taste awful..?
- Not only did the food taste awful, but it was also cold.
Other times when you can use inversion
The ‘Not only’ structure is mostly used in formal writing (but you can use it in Speaking for emphasis, especially when telling a story in Speaking Part 2 e.g ‘Not only did I lose my phone, but I also lost my wallet!’).
Other structures that take inversion include:
9a. We should not leave the EU.
9b. Under no circumstances should we leave the EU.
10a. Life has never been this comfortable.
10b. Never before has life been this comfortable.
11a. I did not think I would pass.
11b Not for a moment did I think I would pass.
12a. I realised my mistake when I got home.
12b. Not until I got home did I realise my mistake.
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