First of all, to understand these four words, let’s discuss how they operate together grammatically. “Not only…but also” is known as a correlative conjunction. YourDictionary.com defines correlative conjunctions as tag-team conjunctions, explaining, “They come in pairs, and you have to use both of them in different places in a sentence to make them work.”
Here are a few other pairs of conjunctions:
All correlative conjunctions connect and compare two distinct ideas, descriptions, or actions. Each pair must be used in the order listed above.
So, with “both…and,” the word order cannot be switched to “and…both.”
Incorrect: She is and lovely both strong.
Correct: She is both lovely and strong.
Now, let’s look at an example sentence using “not only…but also.”
The day was not only long but also rainy.
In this sentence, “not only…but also” works to emphasize the first description by intensifying the meaning with a secondary description. Generally, that’s how “not only…but also” functions—it adds emphasis and intensity to the first idea, description, or action.
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Especially when “not only” appears at the beginning of a sentence, you can expect to see a helping verb (also known as an auxiliary verb) next.
Not only was she a good listener, but she was also a great cook.
The example above shows that “but also” does not have to be placed side-by-side. In this case, “she was” breaks up the two words. Still, “but also” must appear in the second half of the sentence and in the correct sequence.
Not only did we arrive late but also at separate times.
Here, you can see that the normal rules for comma usage apply. As with a coordinating conjunction, when “but” is followed by an independent clause, you use a comma. Otherwise, you don’t need one.
You can follow “not only…but also” with adjectives or descriptive phrases. Just be sure to use parallel structure, so that you’re comparing an adjective with another adjective or a descriptive phrase with a similar descriptive phrase.
She was not only wise but also kind. The title seemed not only confusing to read but also difficult to say.
In both of these examples, the subject and verb appear before the correlative conjunction in the first part of the sentence. Since dependent clauses follow the word “but” in both sentences, commas are not needed. In the second example above, notice that the descriptive phrases have parallel structures. They’re both using an adjective + prepositional phrase, which ensures that the comparison is as neat as possible. While it’s not incorrect to eschew parallelism, writing “not only…but also” sentences with parallel structure makes them easier to read and understand.
You can compare nouns or noun phrases with “not only…but also.”
She invited not only Tim but also John.
In the beginning of the sentence, the subject and verb both precede the first part of the correlative conjunction. Next, two proper nouns are emphasized and intensified. It would be equally correct to write, “She invited Tim and John.” The “not only…but also” construction serves to emphasize the fact that both people received invitations rather than just one of them.
He considered not only the house on the hill but also the apartment near the shore.
The second sentence employs the same basic construction, but it compares noun phrases rather than proper nouns.
In all “not only…but also” sentences, you compare two pieces of information. Often, the comparison is between verbs or verb phrases. For instance, let’s take one of the examples above and rewrite the sentence so that the relationship between two actions becomes the focus.
He not only considered the house on the hill, but he also contemplated the apartment near the shore.
Notice that the main verbs have parallel structure—considered and contemplated. Again, using the same verb form for the first and second part of the sentence will allow your reader to follow your logic more easily.
They not only run but also swim.
Again, there’s no need to use a comma because the second clause is dependent. The two verbs have the same verb form, present simple tense, which maintains the parallel structure.
Variations on Not Only / But Also
Sometimes the phrase “not only” can be replaced by “not alone” or “not just.” Similarly, “also,” “but too,” and but as well” can be good substitutes for “but also.”
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.