“I Only Have Eyes For You” is a song introduced in the film “Dames” in 1934. It was made even more popular by a doo-wop group, The Flamingos, in 1959. Unfortunately, it commits the most common error in the English language, the misplacement of the word “only.”
In the title of this song “only” modifies “have.” So I don’t give eyes for you, I don’t borrow eyes for you, I don’t lend eyes to you, but I only HAVE eyes for you. That’s not what Harry Warren and Al Dubin, who wrote the song, meant. They meant, “I have eyes for you alone.” No need for the word “only.”
This from the novelist Kingsley Amis, who fancied himself a grammarian and enough of an expert on the language and its rules to write a book with the daring title The King’s English (Penguin, 1997):
“The rule is that words beginning with an H only take an when they begin with a genuinely silent H, like heir, honour, hour, and their derivatives.”
He’s saying those words “take an,” they don’t give an or lend an or borrow an….. The way he has it “only” modifies “take.” What he meant was this:
“The rule is that words beginning with an H take an only when they begin with a genuinely silent H, like heir, honour, hour, and their derivatives.”
Yet even that construction is pretty awkward. “The rule is that,” for example, is downright clumsy.
Better: “Use the definite article an before words that begin with a silent H, such as heir, honour, hour, and their derivatives.”
We all make these mistakes. “Even” is another one of these perilous words, for even the majestic Kingsley Amis can screw up this business of trying to write clearly. I do, too. Read my work and trip me up.
Search for the word “only” and study where you placed it. Chances are, it’s out of place. Chances are you don’t need it.