I'm trying to work things through,

(a) It's just that they won

(b) She thinks just that they won (???)

(c) She just thinks that they won

In (a), just can appear immediately before the "that-clause," but not in (b), which means that we need (c). Why is this? I could say that it's because we have linking verb "be" in (a) and a lexical verb in (b), but that's where I get stuck. Can anything else be said about this? What's the underlying syntax that makes (a) and (c) acceptable, but not (b)?

Thanks in advance.

  • I don't think syntax is a good lens through which to view where just sits. It's probably more helpful to look at the semantics instead. The use of "just" in (a) isn't quite the same as in (c). In (c), it carries the notion of a restriction, whereas in (a), it's more a surprise or excuse (Sure, you can fire them. It's just that they won, so you might want to hold off on that.) There may be a way to shoehorn (b) into a grammatical construct, but as it stands, it looks like trying to wedge the 'a'-style usage into a 'c'-style intent. – Lawrence Jun 19 '18 at 16:30
  • I don't see a problem with (b). (a) means "it's fair that they won" and (b) means "she thinks only that they won (not that the win was fair/that they're good guys/that the win means anything)". – 1006a Jun 19 '18 at 18:15
  • Possible duplicate of What's the meaning of " It is just that" – Kris Jun 20 '18 at 9:15
  • Well, I was downvoted, yet what I said is merely an expansion of what Lawrence said, in a way. I guess no one is really interested in this. – Lambie Jun 22 '18 at 17:08

It's not a that clause per se.

Just that is a set phrase: "It's merely (the fact) that".

The just in c is not related to the that there.


See also, the related Q.


There is a pragmatic use of "just" in utterances such as "It's just that" as a discourse marker to deflect a counterargument. It's used in the same way as what is explained in the summary of the article below about entitled "I'm just saying" [that]. This usage should be analyzed as pragmatics or discourse analysis. The grammar of this form is dictated by the speaker's strategy but the clause precedes an argument that will be presented after it in another clause or refer back to it.

It can take the forms such as: "It's just that", [etc.] or it can be associated with a verb, "She just thinks that" or "I'm just saying that".

1 - It's just that they won.

just that [rest of clause] means there has been a discussion of some kind previously:

Imagine a conversation where someone says, about a football team:

A: They did not play really well last night at all, you know.

B: I know that but it's just that they won and I wish they hadn't.

Here the fact they won is what is bothering speaker B.

Imagine another conversation:

A: You've been complaining for ages about your sales' team. I don't get it.

B: It's just that they don't do what they are supposed to do. And I'm tired of it.

Here the fact they are doing what they are supposed to do is bothering speaker B.

Just that in speech such as that is used to make a specific point that is important to a speaker. In that sense, it is a deictic discourse marker in reference to other things that have been said.

2 - She just thinks they won.

  • Someone else thinks otherwise. Here, it is similar to the case above. And can be used like that. It can mean that her main preoccupation is that they won and someone else thinks they did not, for example.

But it can also mean (depending on context): She only thinks that, and has no other particular thoughts about the situation. Then, it's a straight adverb.

3 - She thinks just that they won=is not grammatical (as either regular grammar or the grammar of spoken English). Though a speaker might pause and say something like: She thinks......just that they won, as a way of trying to say after it is too late to say it the other way: She just thinks that they won.

discourse marker

Article: ‘I’m Just Saying . . .’: Discourse Markers of Standpoint Continuity* ROBERT T. CRAIG and ALENA L. SANUSI, University of Colorado.

Our central claim is that these 'saying' expressions are pragmatic devices by which speakers claim 'all along' to have held a consistent argumentative standpoint, one that continues through the discussion unless changed for good reasons. Through close analysis of a series of discourse examples, we show how these discourse markers are used to display continuity, deflect counterarguments, and acknowledge the force of counterarguments while preserving continuity.

[Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall].

  • I just wonder, that's all. It's a perfectly good answer. In fact, it goes straight to the point. Sometimes people ask questions and they are disappointed when their question is correctly reframed. The issue here is not syntactical, it's pragmatical. See Lawrence's comment below the question. – Lambie Jun 28 '18 at 15:10

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