Advanced Business Writing
Rules and Usage

Just Qualifiers


People use the word just as a substitute adverb for a variety of phrases:

no more than: It was just a few days late.

barely: She just managed to reach the office in time.

exactly: That is just what I need.

tell me exactly: Just how did you manage to do that?

recently: We just saw her leave the building.

quite: Not just yet.

And then there are informal and conversational uses:

simply, merely: They are just acquaintances, not close friends.

positively, absolutely: That wedding cake is just gorgeous!

Some teachers and bloggers recommend we stop using the word just altogether. They would prefer that you never write a sentence like this:

I just wanted to let you know your willingness to meet with us is very much appreciated.

There are several reasons to use the word just in a slightly "apologetic" sense:

(1) Sometimes it is appropriate to apologize, if only for having inconvenienced someone.

(2) Not all deference is demeaning; being respectful can be a virtue.

However, there are several reasons to dial back on your use of the word just:

(1) You are a woman and you use the word three times as often as men do. It's time to stop that. Be confident. Demonstrate credibility. Accept your importance. (After all, if it were not for you, there would be none of them.)

(2) You use it so much that people are beginning to talk (about your not-so-eloquent writing).

Another thing about the word just: the phrase just not is very different from the phrase not just:

not just = not only

It was not just Ben who was throwing food.

just not = simply not

Ben has just not matured yet.

Other qualifiers

Some teachers and bloggers also recommend we stop using words like actually and literally. They consider them unnecessary, which is true if you are writing a police report for which you are supposed to state only facts.

Do you want all of your writing to be as matter-of-fact as a police report? The correct answer is No. Emphasis and emotional force can be important in your writing at work.

The word actually is an appropriate qualifier when you are presenting a statement that might be surprising, or incredible, or exaggerated.

I had wanted to be a programmer, and had actually learned to code in three languages, but I enjoyed cooking more.

Of course, if you overuse this word, you overstay your welcome. Try to avoid that. And try not to use actually in a sentence where it can possibly be interpreted as scolding, such as for being wrong or impatient:

Actually, the price is half that.
[possible interpretation: How clueless are you?]

Actually, all you have to do is scroll down to find the link.
[possible interpretation: Why are you so lazy?]

It's okay to use the qualifier literally. It's even better if you occasionally use it in its original sense:

usage 1: "take this in the literal sense"

Our legal consultants believe the Act does not literally mean what it says.

The use of this word has evolved over the past century. It is often now used in a weakened sense:

usage 2: "take this in a strong, figurative sense"

Grocery executives can literally play God, even to the point of demanding genetic modification.

Pedants argue that if you use the word and you are not being literal, you are turning the word into its own antonym. (It can happen. Consider the word cleave.) Don't worry about those people. Instead, just try not to over-use the word, in either sense.

Lesson: Just Qualifiers
Module: Rules and Usage
Course: Advanced Business Writing