Only is an adverb meaning solely, exclusively, merely, as recently as, or in the final outcome or decision. But only is also an adjective meaning being the single one or relatively few of its kind as well as a conjunction which sometimes replaces but. The adjective and conjunction uses don’t usually trip writers. It’s the adverb use that’s the problem.
Check out the example sentence in the graphic above. The writer of this sentence uses the word only much as it appears commonly in spoken English. However, in written English the placement of only serves to modify awarded, which indicates that the only verb which can be associated with the subject of the sentence is awarded. The M.S. degree is never earned or framed or anything other than awarded.
That’s not likely the intended meaning, but that is what follows from the placement of the adverb only directly before the verb. What is likely meant is that a student can receive the M.S. degree only by starting with a B.S. degree and then proceeding to a Ph.D. degree. In this case, the sentence should appear as follows:
Of course, only forms a part of phrase indicators such as if only and but only. In these cases, the placement of only is determined by its participation in the phrase indicators. But when using only otherwise, and especially when using it as an adverb, make sure you place the word only around the item or idea you intend to restrict. More precise language makes for better writing, and that makes you look only better in the eyes of your readers.