This week we answer a question we received from Nurfidhea in Indonesia.
“What is the difference between "just" and "only?" How and when should I use them? Thank you" - Nurfidhea, Makassar, Indonesia
Thank you for writing to us. This is an interesting set of words because when used as adverbs, they seem to mean the same thing. Here are some examples:
There is just enough time to listen to one more song or
There is only enough time to listen to one more song.
She was just a baby when she came to America or
She was only a baby when she came to America.
I have just one brother or
I have only one brother.
But that is not always true. We will look at the times when you must choose one and not the other.
“Just” can mean “merely,” “barely” or “exactly.” It is also used to describe a time in the recent past, or a simple truth. Here are some examples where you can use “just” while “only” would be incorrect.
I just made tea. Would you like a cup?
Here “just” means recently. When you want to say “recently” you should always use “just.”
She lives just north of the city center.
Here it means barely.
He just does not have enough talent to sing in the opera.
Here it is a simple truth.
The adverb “only” comes from the word “one” and means “alone,” or “with no others.” A good way to think of this word is that it describes a unique, or singular, situation. Here are some sentences where you can only use the word “only.”
The gym is only for women.
We will go home only if it starts to rain.
I love only you.
Just a tip
A good way to remember the difference is to use “only” for a special or single thing, and “just” for exact ideas and recent events. I hope this is just the answer you sought!
And now, I have only one request. Please send your questions about English to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
adverb – n. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree
opera – n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra
unique – adj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else
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