< Using 'Just' and 'Only'
By Gena Bennett
15 March 2024

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Mohammad.


What is the difference between just and only?

Using 'Just' and 'Only'
Using 'Just' and 'Only'


Thank you for writing, Mohammad. This is a good question.

In an earlier Ask a Teacher, we explained how the two words, "just" and "only," seem to mean the same thing. For example:

She was just a baby when she came to America.


She was only a baby when she came to America.

In that article, we also explained how the two words have different meanings and when you should use one and not the other. The difference in usage is so small that you might not even notice at first. But it is very important.

So, let's look at more ways to use the two words today.


Usage is the way in which a word or phrase is normally used.

The word "only" can be used in an undesirable situation. For example:

He only finished half his homework.

Only two banks stay open after 4 p.m.

You're only coming on Saturday? I wish you could come earlier.

Its usage is also common when we are not happy about something:

It's only right that they get the same pay for the same work.

The noise is fine, only if it does not hurt my ear.

However, we use the word "just" when we want to make an emphasis, or a stronger statement. Let's compare the last two examples with these:

It's just not right that he gets more pay for the same work.

The noise hurts my ear. Just be quiet, please!

In spoken English, believe it or not, we also use "just" when we want to make something smaller or less important.

For example, when someone thinks the distance is too far, we might say:

Your friend lives just down the road.

If they do not have a lot of time, we might ask:

Can you wait just a minute?

And when someone appears to be busy, we might say:

Could I just ask you something?

I was just wondering, can we meet tomorrow?

Please let us know if this explanation has helped you, Mohammad.

Do you have a question about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com.

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Gena Bennett.

Gena Bennett wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

emphasisn. special importance, value, or attention

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