Learn How to Use the English Words “Just” and “Only”

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The English words “just” and “only” may seem like they are both interchangeable. But the thing is, that’s not always the case. You see, the word “only” can mean “just”, but the word “just” does not always mean “only”. I’m sure you want to learn more of this. That’s why I’ve decided to share with you the uses and meaning of both of these English words. This interesting topic is guaranteed to raise your level of fluency in English, so I’m very excited for you! Just read further to learn more about these 2 words and how to use them properly.

The English Word “Just”

There are many uses and meanings for the word “just”. Its most common meaning is “simply”. The word “just” can be used as an alternative to the word “simply”. Here are some examples:

“It’s simply too easy!” to “It’s just too easy!” 

“She simply wanted to be alone” to “She just wanted to be alone”

“You can simply turn the switch on to get the machine working” to “You can just turn the switch on to get the machine working”

The word “just” can also mean “exactly”. But take note that the word “only” can’t mean the same thing! Take a look at the examples below.

“That’s exactly what I needed!” to “That’s just what I needed!” 

“You know exactly what to do in this situation” to “You know just what to do in this situation”

“This is exactly how she imagined her wedding would be” to “This is just how she imagined her wedding would be” 

This word can also be used as a softener or to sound friendlier and more polite. This is probably why you can hear the English word “just” being used a lot, because aside from meaning a number of things, it’s also used as a softener to one’s sentences.

“Just make yourself at home, okay?”

“Could I just ask you something really quick?”

“I just want to talk to you for 15 minutes.” 

Some More Uses for the Word “Just”

“Just” can also mean recently. An example would be “She has just arrived home”, which means the same as “She has recently arrived home.” 

Interestingly, the word “only” can also mean recently. Such as when you say “It was only discovered last year” which is synonymous to “It was just discovered last year” or “It was recently discovered last year”.

“Just” can also be used to say “barely” or “by a little”. Here’s a great example:

“The Youtube channel for GoNaturalEnglish just has under 2 million subscribers! Wow!” 

Now this one is an interesting example: “You just missed her, she just walked out the door!” This sentence is using “just” in two ways. The first one means “barely”, and the second one means “recently”.

This English word can also be used to express emphasis. Such as when you say: “You’re just so great!” or “This TV character is just so evil!”. But notice that you can’t use only in this context.

“Only” is an English Word that can also mean a number of things

One of the alternative meanings of the word “only”, on the other hand, is “solely”. This can also mean “exclusively”. Such as when you say “There are only a few more tickets left!”. In this case too, you can substitute the word “just” for “only”, as they have the same meaning when used in this context: “There’s just a few more tickets left!”

It can also mean “unfortunately”, like when you say “What you’re planning to do will only make things worse!”.

Another use for “only” is when you describe or talk about something that is single or alone. When you say “I’ve only participated in one marathon in my entire life” it means there’s only a single marathon you’ve joined in. Alternatively, you can opt to say “I’ve just participated in one marathon in my entire life”. Both sentences have the same meaning.

It can also be a form of conjunction similar to “but”, “however” or “nevertheless”. Let me show you what I mean:

“You just started learning this language, only you sound like a native speaker because of your confidence!” 

Let’s Compare Both Words!

Now that we know the uses and meanings for both English words, let’s go through some examples where we use them in the same sentence and check if they mean the same thing.

  • “Let’s just study for 15 minutes” – “just” is used as a softener so that the speaker does not sound too demanding in asking for some time to study.
  • “Let’s only study for 15 minutes” – “only” is used to emphasize that the study time is limited to 15 minutes.
  • “You can just put your bag down here” – “just” is also used as a softener in this sentence, with the speaker encouraging someone to unload or put down his bag.
  • “You can only put your bag down here” – “only” is used to emphasize the single allowable spot where a person can put down his bag.
  • “I’m just so tired of your attitude” – “just” puts emphasis on the speaker’s feeling of being tired.
  • “I’m only so tired of your attitude” – this means the speaker is only tired of someone’s attitude, not with his other characteristics or features.

Some Collocations and Idiomatic Phrases Using the English Word “Only”

Here are some commonly used collocations and idiomatic phrases using the English word “only”. You may have heard them being used from native English speakers. It will be great to know these as I’m pretty sure you’ll hear them often, and sooner or later you will be able to adapt to these phrases too.

“I only have one pair of hands.” 

This is saying I can only do so much by myself.

“A face that only a mother could love.” 

What this means is not a very good looking face.

“It’s only a question of time.” 

This means something is inevitable and is bound to happen any day or any minute now.

“Beauty is only skin-deep.” 

This means that it’s important to be beautiful both on the outside and on the inside.

“For your eyes only.” 

This pertains to private photos, messages, letters, or any information that is not meant to be seen by others.

“God only knows.” 

In moments when we are dumfounded and don’t know what to say or to do, we tend to say this line.

“You only live once.”

Also known as YOLO. This means you should not be afraid to go after the things you want in life. You only get one life and you should make the most of it.

“He’s not the only fish in the sea.” 

This means that a girl can have other options or choices for a partner.

Some Collocations and Idiomatic Phrases Using the English Word “Just”

Now here are examples of collocations and idiomatic phrases using the English word “just”. Again, you’re bound to hear and encounter these lines if you still haven’t. And it will be a step up in your English skills when you learn these as you get to talk and interact the way native English speakers do.

“Just in the nick of time.” 

This means you almost got late or you were cutting it too close to a deadline.

“Just because.” 

When you are asked why you like something or why you are doing something and you cannot think of a reason, often a good answer is this line.

“I’m just saying.” 

This is a really common phrase used by native English speakers. It’s used to emphasize someone’s opinion. Like when you say “You should study harder or you’ll lose your scholarship. I’m just saying.” 

“Just around the corner” or “Just ahead” 

This means we’re getting close to our point of destination.

“She’s not just a pretty face.” 

What this means is someone is good-looking AND talented or intelligent or artistic. It’s saying there’s more to a person than her good looks.

“Just off the boat.” 

Now, this line is a bit derogatory and you should not use it at all. It means just arriving from a different country. You’ll want to stay away from lines like this, but I added it here because it’s important that you know what it means and you know why it’s not good to use it.

“Just my cup of tea.” 

This is a commonly used phrase that means what a person is interested in or what a person is good at or what a person enjoys.

There’s More to Discover

There are so many other examples in the video posted, I urge you to watch it and discover the other collocations and idiomatic phrases using the English words “just” and “only”. If you can think of other sayings and lines using these two commonly used words, feel free to share in the comments section.

Here’s another fun English lesson which also features some idiomatic phrases you can learn, practice and use!

Remember, this is JUST the beginning and you’re ONLY going to get better and better after this. Keep on learning! See you in our next lesson.

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