WHAT HAPPENS WITH «JUST»?
JUST is one of those useful words that fills the gaps you need for thinking while you’re speaking. Native speakers use it often in a range of common expressions because its meanings are flexible, highly useful and normally invoke the Latin origins of the word to suggest that you are just being reasonable…
The dictionary meaning of JUST is precisely or simply. It emphasises that what follows is the naked, perfect truth, no more, no less.
Kids learn it at Christmas in the phrase “It’s just what I wanted”, but it’s also useful in business meetings to tactfully prepare the listener for hard realities: “We just can’t do it with this budget”, “It just doesn’t make sense” or “We just have to wait and see”. Grammarians will note that, in the first two examples, JUST breaks the rules for adverbs and goes before the negative auxiliaries can’t and don’t. That’s because it’s a kind of ‘sentence adverb’, giving the speaker’s view of the whole phrase that follows, not just one verb in the clause.
JUST can be similar to only when it means “no more than”, most famously, perhaps, when things are just in time. It also has this meaning in phrases like just enough (to live on, for example), “We (only) just made it” or the classic, “I’ve just arrived”.
It’s common after the negative auxiliary (this time in normal adverb position) when it attacks only the verb in the phrase, often suggesting that this action is insufficient “We can’t just wait and do nothing”, “We don’t just sell you a product…”, etc.
It’s JUST that…
This ‘only’ sense appears in one of the best phrases with JUST, the sentence starter, “It’s just that…”. If you think of the equivalent in your own language in these examples, its value for buying time is clear: “It’s just that… …we don’t have any vacancies right now / …all of our centres are really busy / …we’re not authorised to do these things”.
Whether or not you give a toss about the grammatical complexities of its sentence position, JUST is a useful tool for your spoken English that will buy you time and add subtlety to what you say. It can emphasise that you are just right for the position, then apologise for the fact that you just can’t go any lower on the salary.