I would like to know what just means in the following piece of remark.

"I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing," said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. "There’s nowhere for these folks to move to."

In Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, the definitions of just are listed as follows. To pick one as just an assumption, the 10th meaning I made bold looks the most appropriate but I am not sure.

  1. exactly
  2. at the same moment as
  3. no less than; equally
  4. by a small amount
  5. used to say that you/somebody did something very recently
  6. at this/that moment; now
  7. going to do something only a few moments from now or then
  8. simply
  9. only
  10. (informal) really; completely

4 Answers 4


In your example sentence, just has the meaning simply:

 . . . I've got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and simply can’t afford housing

(Although, in this case, the meaning might be clearer if the word still were used instead—because that would better reflect their inability to pay for housing despite the fact that they have jobs.)

  • Thank you very much for answering. I get using still instead would make the meaning much clearer. Then, what do you think about changing the conjunction and into but? Is but more appropriate and would show better clarity than and there? Do you think my confusion has been partly caused by the wrong choice of the conjunction there? Jun 28, 2018 at 7:59
  • 1
    Yes, I think that something like but or yet would give a better contrast. Jun 28, 2018 at 8:38
  • I think "and just" actually has similar connotations to "but" here, it's joining two sentences and implying a contrast between them. Saying "but just" wouldn't be colloquial. Jun 17, 2021 at 22:30

In your example


has the meaning

taking all possibilities into account

I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and taking all possibilites into account can’t afford housing

So the meaning is closest to completely.

  • Thank you very much for the clarification, which confirms my assumption was partly correct. Logically, this meaning makes the most sense to me. I think just is not just a word but a complicated word. It seems to me that It has a very wide scope of nuances. Jun 28, 2018 at 8:07

Taking the definition you have placed in bold into account, along with the answers by Peter and Jason, you might paraphrase that remark as

... but there is simply no way that they can afford housing.

  • Thank you very much for the brilliant answer that neatly sums up the whole aspects and components, as always, Tᴚoɯɐuo. Jun 28, 2018 at 8:09

An analogous sentence: "He's a wealthy man, he just can't control his gambling habit". The closest meanings in your dictionary list are probably "simply" or "only", but they fail to capture what's really going on here: the second statement is qualifying or contrasting with the first. It's very similar to joining the two statements with "but", but not completely equivalent. I would paraphrase it as "He is a wealthy man, but this has less effect than you would think, because he can't control his gambling habit".

[Incidentally, I noticed my example has a splice comma. I'm fond of using splice commas in my writing, I don't care what anyone says about them.]

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