Difference between “just” and “only”

Difference between just and only

Are they the same or different?

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Just

The word “just” has several possible definitions:

1) Recently

  • Be careful – I just washed the floor, and it’s still wet.
    (= I washed the floor a few minutes ago)
  • He just finished a big project.
    (= he finished the project very recently)

2) Only

  • I have just one brother. (= I have only one brother)
  • I thought you were hungry, but you ate just half of your sandwich.
    (= you ate only half of your sandwich, and no more)

Only

The word “only” can be replaced with “just” in most situations:

  • Only two students came to class on the day before Christmas.
    = Just two students came to class on the day before Christmas.
  • My kids only use the internet for schoolwork, not for playing games.
    = My kids just use the internet for schoolwork, not for playing games.

In the expression “If only…” you can use “just” if you change the structure a little bit:

  • If only I had studied harder. I would’ve passed the test.
    = If I had just studied harder, I would’ve passed the test.

 

“Only” and “just” are interchangeable with definition 2 of “just,” but not with definition 1.

  • Definition 2 – Same meaning
    We have just one daughter. = We have only one daughter.
  • Definition 1 – Different meanings
    I just washed the floor (a few minutes ago)
    I only washed the floor (and I didn’t wash the table)

However, it also depends on the context:

“Did you clean the whole house?”
“No, I just washed the floor” (= I only washed the floor).

“Why is the floor wet?”
“Because I just washed it”
(= I recently washed it. In this case, you can’t use “only”)

Word order

When you use “just,” the word order matters:

  • I just ate two pieces of pizza. ( = I recently ate two pieces of pizza)
  • I ate just two pieces of pizza ( = I ate only two pieces, not 3 or 4 or 5)

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