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I'm a bit confused about this. Which expression is correct?

You can't just do that.

or

You just can't do that.

I'm trying to say:

You can't just bash an ideology because of what someone has said/done.

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@simchona I'll add that and edit my question. –  Jonas Aug 5 '12 at 22:40
    
@Jonas Your context definitely helps, but then both phrases still work in the same sentence. What tone are you trying to achieve? –  simchona Aug 5 '12 at 22:43
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@simchona sad and persuasive –  Jonas Aug 5 '12 at 22:49
    
One can't just walk into Mordor. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 8 '13 at 21:41
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3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

As with only, one should exercise care in carefully placing just. In your sentence, you want:

  • You can’t bash an ideology just because of what someone has said/done.

Because you want to be perfectly clear that just applies to because.

In the original pair of question, this one:

  • You can’t just do that.

Applies just to do, whereas this one:

  • You just can’t do that.

Applies just to can’t.

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I want to vote this up, but I don't have enough reputation. This looks like the answer to my question. Thank you. –  Jonas Aug 5 '12 at 22:56
    
I agree with this answer, but I would note that in common speech, or even in writing, the subtle difference in meaning here may not even be intentional. Certainly it would be easy for me to write "just can't" when I probably meant "can't just," and vice versa. –  Evan Harper Aug 6 '12 at 9:48
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The two forms are both correct, but imply different things.

just can't

means that not only can you not do it, you really really cannot or that it is not open for debate; just is used here for emphasis: as in "that's just beautiful" or "I just love Picasso". (This tends to be used in less formal speech, especially in recent decades; it is also a common target for ironic use: "You crashed my car? Brilliant. Just brilliant.")

In contrast,

can't just

means that if you only do what you're suggesting, it's something that you cannot do, but raises the possibility of doing something else as well that would then enable you to do it: "you can't just walk up to the King and say hello; you at least have to bow first." "I can't just run a marathon; I need to train first."

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Thank you very much. –  Jonas Aug 5 '12 at 23:00
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You can't just bash an ideology because of what someone has said or done

means that you can bash an ideology because of what someone has said or done, but you should do more than bashing.

You just can't bash an ideology because of what someone has said or done

means that you cannot bash an ideology because of what someone has said or done, and I cannot believe anybody thinks you can.

You can't bash an ideology just because of what someone has said or done

means that what someone has said or done is insufficient for bashing an ideology, but in combination with something else it might provide sufficient reason.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jan 8 '13 at 11:27

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