Only vs Just: Difference and Comparison

We all think it would not be that difficult to use two simple small words in the English language as and when we like. But that is not necessarily true.

English grammar is notoriously complex. Sometimes even native English language speakers can struggle with grammar.

One reason could be that English has a huge vocabulary where the rules are forever shifting. No wonder some students with English as a second language cannot pick it up in one lesson.

Learning all the detailing and intricacies of the language takes a while. One example is the English words “Only” and “Just.”

Many of us get confused with the words Only and Just, which is unsurprising, especially in situations where they can be interchanged as they have the same use. By concept, the words Only and Just seem similar until you read an English text. 

This is when you realize that they can be used in different ways.

Key Takeaways

  1. Emphasis on exclusivity: ‘Only’ emphasizes that something is restricted to one specific item, person, or situation.
  2. Limited to a specific amount or degree: ‘Just’ stress that something is no more than a certain amount or degree, implying that it is barely enough.
  3. Slight difference in tone: ‘Just’ can convey a sense of immediacy or urgency, while ‘only’ may have a more neutral or limiting tone.

Only vs. Just

“Only” emphasizes that something is limited or exclusive.”Only” can also restrict or limit an action. “Just” indicates that something is barely sufficient or narrowly applicable. “Just” can also be used to express fairness or impartiality.

Only vs Just
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Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonOnlyJust
Meaning                                               Only can mean No one or Nothing More, Single or Solitary, But, ExceptExactly, In the immediate past, Recently, Behaved according to what is right or fair
InterchangeWhen Only means no one or nothing it cannot be interchanged with JustWhen Just means exactly it cannot be interchanged with Only
FormalOnly is less informal than JustJust is more informal than Only
Relation with a sentenceOnly can come more or less anywhere in a sentenceJust can have different meanings depending on its position in the sentence
UseOnly is used as an Adverb to mean that something is limitedJust is more used to express something that has happened recently

What is “Only”?

The word Only can be used in different ways. Depending on the context, the meaning of this word will change. 

It can be an adverb, adjective, or conjunction. Only one such word in English can also mean a number of things. 

One alternative meaning of this word is “solely.”  This could also mean “exclusively.”

“There are only a few more tickets left!”  Here the word Only can be substituted by the word Just, and still, the sentence will have the same meaning – “There are just a few more tickets left!”

The word Only can also mean “unfortunately” – “What you plan to do will only make things worse!”

Another use for the word Only is when you describe something single or alone. “I have only participated in one marathon in my entire life.” 

Here it means that there is only a single marathon that you have joined. The word Only can also be in the form of conjunction similar to “but,” “however,” or “nevertheless.”

“You can come, only ensure you are on time.”

only

What is “Just”?

Just as a common adverb in English that has different meanings.  The range of uses and meanings of Just is very wide.

  • We can use it to mean “simply” or “absolutely.” 
  1. It is just not right.
  2. Our holiday was just perfect.
  3. Here the word adds emphasis to a statement.
  1. “Just” means “exactly” – You look like your sister.
  2. “Just” can mean “recently” or “a very short time while speaking.”

Where’s my phone?  I had it just now. Could you wait for me? I am just going to shop.

  • When we refer to a short time before the moment of speaking, the meaning of just is used in the present perfect or past perfect tense

I have just decided to sell off my apartment.

  1. We can use “Just” for “emphasis” – Just shut the door quickly, or we will be late.  Here the word is used to emphasize an imperative.
  2. The word “Just” is sometimes used as a softener – Can I just ask you a question?”.  Here, the meaning is “I want to ask you a question, but I don’t want to trouble you, and it will only take a short time.” If this was asked directly, “Can I ask you a question?” it would sound very rude. So to sthe sentence and make it sound polite, the word “Just” is added.
  3. Sometimes the word “Just” is used instead of “Only” – His first pay cheque was just ten thousand rupees. 
  4. In other situations, we can use “Just” but cannot use “Only” – He was just here.

When and Only Give the Same Meaning in a Sentence

Just and Only can float around, taking more than one position in a sentence. But in spoken English, their normal position is between the subject and the verb.

  1. I just came to speak with you for a couple of minutes

               I only came to speak with you for a couple of minutes

  • I have just one brother

I have only one brother

just

Main Differences Between Only and Just

  1. The main difference between Only and Just is that Only has many different ways making it a very busy word.  It can be used as an adjective, an adverb, and a conjunction, just as a common adverb used to mean for a short time.
  2. Only is used as an adjective to mean recently, whereas Just is used to show very recently.
  3. Only shows “only one,” whereas it Just shows “any moment now.”
  4. Only can be used more or less anywhere in a sentence but Just can have different meanings depending on its position.
  5. Only is less informal than Just
  6. Only can be used as a conjunction but Just can be used only as an adverb
Difference Between Only and Just
References
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/037821668790138X
  2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177 /0146167290163006

Last Updated : 14 October, 2023

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