Question from George in the Romania:

How does ‘once’ change when it is with ‘just‘ or ‘only‘?


Hi George. Thanks for your question.

As you know ‘once‘ means an action that is performed one time only. So if we say ‘Count the chickens once‘ we are saying ‘count the chickens one time only and no more than that’. As it stands, we do not need to add anything to that sentence to make the meaning clear.

However, your question shows that there are two (at least) common modifiers that we use with ‘once‘ – ‘just‘ and ‘only‘. Both of these are used to emphasize the fact that the action is required one time and one time only or that it happened one time only.

For example:

  • I do not want you to count them more than once. Count them just once and then go home.
  • She only has to read something once to learn it.
  • I only had time to read the questions once before the exam started.
  • I just met her once and then I never saw her again.

Notice that the placement of ‘just‘ or ‘only‘ does not have to be immediately before ‘once‘ but is often placed directly after the subject pronoun.

In terms of how ‘just’ and ‘only’ effect the meaning I’d say that they are interchangeable and both can be used to emphasize ‘once‘ in the same way.