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"These days it is expensive to take care of just one child."

When I read the sentence, I understand the point, however, I think "just" might be ambiguous here, so I think that instead of "just", the word "even" sits better in the sentence, because "...just one child" can create a meaning like ".....you need have more than one", can't it?

So, this is what I want to ask. What do you think? Should it not be "even" instead of "just" in the sentence?

"These days it is expensive to take care of EVEN one child."

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    Both are fine. 'Just one' can carry the implication of 'let alone more', and need not imply, as you suggest, 'you need to have more than one'. Jan 12, 2023 at 11:42
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    @MichaelHarvey: It might be "obvious" which sense of just (even or only) is intended with OP's example. But not necessarily. As my answer indicates, even with this exact example there's scope for ambiguity. And I'm sure there will be many "similar" contexts where the ambiguity is even more problematic. So I still think just is a very bad choice for a non-native speaker to consider using here. Jan 12, 2023 at 14:52
  • Why not both? These days it is expensive to take care of even just one child.
    – Stef
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:49
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    @Stef: Or the other meaningful "both" permutation - These days it is expensive to take care of only just one child. All three words are intensfiers, so if you use two, you're just making a more emphatic assertion. In your case, that one child is far too many, in my case, that it's nowhere near enough. I'd say the third possible permutation (even + only) is "incomprehensible". Jan 12, 2023 at 22:50
  • I agree that just is ambiguous - suggesting that there might be some economy of scale in having more than one.
    – Roger V.
    Jan 13, 2023 at 13:01

2 Answers 2

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In principle, just is a valid alternative to even in OP's context. But it's a very bad choice, because of the potential for misunderstanding. Note this default meaning...

1: X is [bad, impossible, unsatisfactory] with just Y (OR ...with only Y)
means Y is not enough [for X] - more [than just Y] is needed

Hence in OP's exact context, one could easily interpret the text as implying...

The cost per child of providing care is expensive with just one child

That's to say - "economies of scale" make it cheaper per child if you care for several children.


TL;DR: Avoid just and stick with even in the cited context.

Note that in "real" (spoken) language, ambiguity is unlikely because we put...

heavy stress on just for the only sense (more is better),
OR
heavy stress on one for the even sense (less - i.e. none - is better).

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  • "Even with ten children the cost-per-child was still too high." Jan 12, 2023 at 22:27
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    @user3067860 "still" is doing the heavy lifting in that sentence, along with the implication that family size grows in one direction (upward).
    – Flater
    Jan 13, 2023 at 4:51
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    @Flater "Even with 10 children per teacher the cost-per-child was too high." Jan 13, 2023 at 14:21
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"Just", used adverbially, means only or simply, for example "just one child". You're most often to see it used with one of something as in your example of "just one child", but you can use it with any number to mean no more than, for example "just the two of us".

"Even", used adverbially, is to denote the unexpected or extreme, for example "all children can struggle at school, even the most intelligent".

If "one child" is the extreme end of your scale, then arguably you could use either, but 'even' seems the most appropriate because saying "it is expensive to care for just one child" could seem like you are saying that is the only circumstance under which it is expensive, whereas what I think you are trying to say is that if it is expensive to care for one then it must be even more expensive to care for more.

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    Yes, and for example the meanings of "I don't want to have just one child" and "I don't want to have even one child" are quite different. Jan 13, 2023 at 12:07

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