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In a job cover letter I've written "Only last month I heard great things about the clinic while attending a conference." My first question: are 'only last month' and 'just last month' interchangeable? Is one better than the other? Second, while trying to find an answer via google I saw instances akin to "Only last month, I heard great things..." Should there be a comma after 'month' or no?

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    Only last month might introduce a contrast: "Only last month, I heard the food was delicious but..." Just last month might emphasize how recent it occurred: "Just last month, I heard the food was delicious, so I'd have confidence it still is." Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 21:41

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There is not associated with the word "only" in this usage the usual idea of singleness but on the contrary the implicit announcement that there are or that there has to be more instances to come or more instances in existence. This might come after a contrary statement or context so as to invalidate it, but not necessarily, it might be uttered or written as means of emphasizing a non-contradictory statement or context. The sentence in the question appears to be about emphasis. It does not seem to be a recorded usage in the SOED I own. However, I am fairly sure that this is the meaning that should be given to this phrase, whereas in the case of "just last year" I am much less certain of it as a synonym; this is due, I think, to the fact that the additional interpretation of "just" as "recently", which is possible, makes it ambiguous. However many example from the books might confirm that this is true and I provided some so as to give the interested reader a means of appreciating him/herself what comes out of all that; the collected examples, if I interpret them correctly, would show that there is no real difference between the two forms: in this context they appear to be synonymous. In conclusion, I'll say that the form with "only" is sounder.

I'd use a comma, but usage concerning that point seems to be divided, as show the examples from the books below.

  • "Only last month, I heard great things about the clinic while attending a conference."

(Note    I think that this following syntax, that should not include a comma in my opinion, is not interpretable as a case of invalidation or emphasis.

  • Only last month did I hear great things about the clinic while attending a conference.)

II examples for "only"
The Ivory Poachers, Linda Pfotenhauer - 1993 - And they're ruthless. Only last month we lost two of our best men! They just shot them dead. It's worrying, Agnes, very worrying.' 'But only last month you told me you were gaining on them,' Mrs Maswabi said, trying to sound encouraging.

Waugh in Abyssinia,, Evelyn Waugh - 2012 -

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My Guilty Pleasure, Jamie Denton - 2008 -

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[Hard Times: A Runaway's Adventures in the Americas, Jack Mercer - 2013 - Well, it is always a gamble sending a man out to one of our branches overseas. At times it has been a flop. Only last month we had to recall the new man from China. But youcan have a tryJack. ‎

Digital Fortress: A Thriller, Dan Brown - 2007 - Only last month TRANSLTR had thwarted one of the most ingeniously conceived terrorist attacks the NSA had ever witnessed. An antigovernment organization had devised a plan, code-named Sherwood Forest.

Malachi, Baron Brady - 2008 - ... the people who run things who'll stop at nothing to prevent us from turning a profit. Only last month, the Labor Standards Bureau went after Paquito because he'd given some wetbacks a chance to work and to make good in this country ...

Jeremy Poldark, Winston Graham - 2011 - Only last month, in that sudden bad weather which had blown up, his cutter the One and All had had to be warned off from landing because the gaugers were there on the spot, and she'd been driven back towards Land's End with not a creek …

Holocaust, Gerald Green - 2010 - Only last month, Eichmann sent 35,000 Jews from Budapest to various camps, all of these people marked for “resettlement.” In Lublin, the Russians are hanging our staff men at the Maidanek camp.

Public Hearings on Noise Abatement and Control, United States. - 1972 -

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III examples for "just"

Gray Matter, Marvin Gray - 2014 -

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The Cowboy Meets His Match: A Sexy Western Contemporary Romance, Meagan Mckinney - 2011 - ... and a twinge of sympathy moved through her. While no rodeo devotee herself, she knew what rodeo was. She knew that saddle-bronc riding could be literally bone crushing. Just last month, up at the rodeo in Calgary, a contestant finished his ride and fell dead from the saddle.

Childhood and Adolescence in Society: Selections From CQ, CQ Researcher, - 2011 - In states and localities across the country, tight budgets are imperiling anti-suicide programms. Just last month, for example, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney proposed eliminating $125,000 for suicide prevention.38 Far to the west, cash-strapped city officials in Santa Fe, N.M., have shut down a program to help adolescents in crisis and ...

Dogged Pursuit: How a Rescue Dog Rescued Me, Robert Rodi - 2009 - I asked Natalie whether the people who adopted Stormy had originally been interested in Dusty. “Exactly so,” she e-mailed back, a hint of resignation seeping from between the lines. “And it's not the first time either. Just last month someone came up for Dusty and ended up going home with another dog."

Unofficial Diplomacy: The American Institute in Taiwan: A Memoir, David Dean - 2014 - Both sides have had intensive negotiations over the past two years on tariff réductions, Currency appreciation, counterfeiting, patent protection and a host of other issues. Just last month we had negotiations in Washington on textiles, steel, inland shipping, and intellectual property rights. It is clear to any impartial observer that both sides have made real progress.

Spike Lee: Interviews,Spike Lee, ‎Cynthia Fuchs - 2002 - So, in an industry full of phonies who work hard at being all things to all people, Spike is refreshingly rare. Just last month, for instance, he publicly criticized Mel Gibson's new movie, The Patriot, for its inaccuracies.

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  • LPH, your descriptive answer was a little hard to follow but the examples you provided were great and answered my questions. Thank you for taking the time & effort to look those up :) My conclusion from the examples is that 'only last month' and 'just last month' are interchangeable; it's just a matter of preference. Secondly, one generally does NOT put a comma after either phrase. Most of the examples above that contain commas do so because of what follows (e.g. 'for instance' and 'up at the rodeo in Calgary'), and not because of the 'just/only last month' clause.
    – Nicole C
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 21:42

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