JUST and ONLY in English

JUST and ONLY in English

My students asked me to clarify the difference or similarity between the words JUST and ONLY.

These words are sometimes synonyms and therefore interchangeable but not always.

Here are the main uses of both words:

Can be an adjective, and adverb and a conjunction.

These are some examples of ‘only’ as an adverb meaning “not more than:

I was only five when I started playing the guitar.
I only expect you to listen to what I have to say.
It’s only an idea.

When ‘only’ is used as an adverb is can be replaced by ‘just’:
Mozart was just five when he started composing. etc.

If ‘only’ is used as an adjective it means that there is only one of its kind and it cannot be replaced by ‘just’:

This is the only picture I have of my grandfather.
Only you can understand me.
I think it is an advantage to be an only child.

‘Only’ can also be used as a conjunction instead of ‘but’:

We both live in the same city only I live closer to the sea.
He’s got a great sense of humor only he drinks too much.

In this case, it can be replaced by ‘just’, but not in the same position in the sentence. For example:

We both live in the same city, I just live closer to the sea.
He’s got a great sense of humor, he just drinks too much.

Used to mean ‘a short time ago’ or ‘recently’. In this case ‘just’ cannot be replaced by ‘only’:

He has just arrived.
I’ve just spoken to Harry about the proposals.

Used to mean ‘exactly‘ In this case ‘just’ can also not be replaced by ‘only’:

This is just (exactly) what I wanted to do.


When you use “just,” the word order makes a difference in meaning:

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


Decide if these sentences can take just – only – just or only:


1. He’s ___ walked out of the office.

2. I was ___ joking.

3. Haven’t we ___ walked through this street? We’re lost.

4. ___ wait a minute and I’ll be right with you.

5. The creator of this logo was ___ a young art student.

6. The shoes were ___ the right size for me.

7. They were away for ___ a week.

8. What a coincidence! I’ve ___ mentioned you and you walk into the room.

9. Peter was the ___ person prepared to help me.

10. You can come with us ___ if you behave.


1. just

2. just or only

3. just

4. just or only

5. just or only

6. just

7. just or only

8. just

9. only

10. just or only

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