Main Difference – Just vs Only
Just and only are two adverbs that are interchangeable. However, it is important to notice that just and only are interchangeable only in some instances. In some cases, the interchange of these two adverbs may result in a distortion of meaning. The main difference between just and only is that just can mean exactly whereas only does not carry this meaning.
Just – Meaning
As an adverb, just has many meanings. It’s better to look at these meanings before going straight to the difference between just and only. Given below are some basic meanings of just.
That’s just what he said.
This is just what I needed.
He’s a human being, just like everyone else.
I just got a call from the office.
I just finished my dinner.
I heard about it just now.
Simply, no more than:
Calm down – it was just a nightmare.
They were just interested in the scenery.
He just cares about his looks.
When we are using just in a sentence, the word order or the position of just in the sentence is important. This is because a change in position can result in a change in meaning. For example,
He just had two pieces of cake – This implies that he had cake recently.
He had just two pieces of cake – This implies that he had only two pieces.
It is this latter meaning of just that makes just and only interchangeably. The third meaning of just, explained above (Simply, no more than) is similar to that of only. Therefore, only can be used to replace the above three examples:
Calm down – it was just a dream.→ Calm down – it was only a dream.
They were just interested in the scenery. → They were only interested in the scenery.
He just cares about his looks. → He only cares about his looks.
Only – Meaning and Usage
Only is interchangeable with just in many cases. It means simply or no more than. It is easier to understand the meaning of this adverb by looking at its contexts. The following examples will help you to understand these meanings.
I only have a few minutes. → I have no more than few minutes.
Only her knowledge saved her. → Her knowledge, not anything else, saved her.
Although just can be used interchangeably with only in most cases, there are some instances when the meaning of a sentence changes by interchanging these adverbs. For example,
- I just had breakfast. (I had breakfast not long ago.)
- I only had breakfast. (I had breakfast and nothing else.)
- This is just what I need. (This is exactly what I need.)
- This is only what I need. (I don’t need anything more.)
Thus, it becomes clear that only and just are interchangeable only in some cases. Moreover, it is important to note that the position of only in a sentence doesn’t make a much difference in the meaning. Although some of the following formations sound odd, it is not difficult to understand that they have the same meaning.
I only saw him.
I saw only him.
I saw him only.
Difference Between Just and Only
Just can mean
Only can mean
No one or nothing more besides; solely
Just cannot be interchanged with only when just means exactly.
Only cannot be interchanged with just when only means nothing or no one else.
Just is more informal than only.
Only is less informal than just.
Just can have different meanings when the position changes.
Only can more or less come in anywhere of a sentence.