Difference Between Only and Just (with Table)

All of us think that 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 because English has a very huge vocabulary where the rules are forever shifting.

No wonder some students having English as a second language cannot just pick it up in one lesson. It does take a while to learn all the detailing and intricacies of the language. One such example is with the English words “Only” and “Just”.

Many of us get confused with the words Only and Just which is not surprising, especially in situations where they can be interchanged as they have the same use. By concept, the words Only and Just seem to be very similar until you read an English text. This is when you realize that they can be used in different ways.

Although in most of the cases, Only can be replaced by Just, the difference between ‘Only’ and ‘Just’ is that Just is used for the events that have happened recently whereas Only cannot be used for the same. They can be, many times used in place of one other.

Comparison Table Between Only and Just

Parameter of ComparisonOnly Just
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 often 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, and conjunction.

Only is one such word in English which 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 are planning to do will only make things worse!”

Another use for the word Only is when you talk or describe about something that is 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 in.

The word Only can also be in the form of a conjunction similar to “but”, “however” or “nevertheless”.

“You can come, only make sure that you are on time”

Only

What is “Just”?

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

  • We can use it for meaning “simply” or “absolutely”. 
  1. It is just not right.
  2. Our holiday was just perfect.
  3. Here the word just adds emphasis to a statement.
  1. The word “Just” also means “exactly” – You look just 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 often used in the present perfect or past perfect tense

I have just decided to sell off my apartment.

  1. We can use the word “Just” for “emphasis” – Just shut the door quickly or we are going to 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”.  Of this was asked directly “Can I ask you a question?”, it would sound very rude. So to soften the 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. There are other situations when we can use “Just” but cannot use “Only” – He was just here.

When Just and Only Give the Same Meaning in a Sentence

Just and Only can be used to float around and they take 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 conjunction.  Just is a common adverb and is used to mean for a short time ago.
  2. Only is used as an adjective to mean recently whereas Just is used to show very recently.
  3. Only shows “only one” whereas 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 in the sentence.
  5. Only is usually less informal than Just
  6. Only can be used as a conjunction but Just can be used only as an adverb

Conclusion

Only and Just are two common important words we should know regardless of what has to be used be it at school, travel, business, etc.  They are used to point out or emphasize one part of a clause.

A good way to remember the difference between these two words is that Only is for a special or single thing whereas Just is for exact ideas and recent events. Only refers to uniqueness while Just refers to exactness.

These words are interchangeable but not always.  There are a lot of times when they are synonymous. You can use Only anytime but Just can be used usually to mean the same thing.

So the next time you get confused between these two words try to find the meaning of the context.  After all just like a dialogue in a movie, ”English is a funny language”.  So go ahead and have fun!

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/037821668790138X
  2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177 /0146167290163006