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I looked up just in some dictionaries, and they all say it’s an adverb (or at least, that it can be an adverb; apparently it can also be an adjective, a noun, a verb, or even an interjection):

Then I’m curious as to exactly what part of speech just is in this sentence:

It’s just me.

If it’s an adverb, does just modify the pronoun me or the linking verb is?

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3 Answers 3

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Just is modifying me here, not is

It’s just me.

In a comment, BillJ wrote:

In your example, it's a adverb functioning as a focusing modifier of "me". "Just me" is thus a noun phrase functioning as predicative complement of "be".

Here just is an adverb serving as a focusing modifier of the pronoun me. It works much like only does in this regard, which is another focusing modifier.

But just is still considered an adverb here, not an adjective. The same thing happens with nearly everybody and nearly finished: in both cases, nearly is still held to be an adverb even when modifying nouns and pronouns. If this idea seems strange, and I know it may, then this is because “adverb” is a junk-yard category that we throw just about everything into when we run out of names for word classes. It’s also because the simple parts of speech we teach third-graders in America are too narrow and simplistic for use in more nuanced, precise, and exacting analyses.

Boring technical details follow.


Boring Details and References

The Oxford English Dictionary allows that just can have many possible parts of speech, including not just noun, adjective, verb, adverb but also other several others like intensifiers and modifiers (including focusing modifiers) of both words and phrases. This can include nouns and pronouns as well as larger constituents like phrases and clauses.

The particular use mentioned by BillJ as a focusing modifier of arbitrary constituents falls under OED just (adverb), sense 6:

  1. Used to place the focus on a particular word or phrase.
    a. No less than; absolutely; actually, positively, really. In weakened sense: neither more nor less than, no other than; simply, merely.
    (a) Modifying noun phrases.

In just me, this places the focus on the pronoun me.

And That’s Not All!

However, just has many other uses as a would-be adverb. OED just (adverb) sense 2 shows just used as a modifier of all of these:

  • quantifiers; adjectives; adverbs; adverbial clauses and phrases; adverbs introducing a subject or object clause; as or so with adjectives, adverbs, or quantifiers; nouns; noun phrases, noun phrases with the; prepositional phrases; pronouns; interrogative pronouns; conjunctions; correlative constructions using not just; and temporal clauses.

Specifically, it says it can modify all these types of things:

  1. As a modifier: exactly, precisely; actually; very closely. Also (now archaic) even just (cf. even adv. 5).
    • a. Of place or position, modifying prepositional phrases and adverbs.
    • b. Of degree and comparison, modifying as or so with adjectives, adverbs, or quantifiers: equally or quite as ——.
    • c. Of manner, modifying prepositional phrases, adverbs, and conjunctions, esp. as, like. Also of reason or purpose, modifying prepositional phrases and conjunctions.
    • d. Of amount, number, or quantity, modifying nouns, pronouns, and quantifiers.
    • e. Of time, modifying prepositional phrases, adverbs, and temporal clauses.
    • f. Of state, identity, or similarity, or of opposition or antithesis.
      (a) Modifying prepositional phrases, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. See also just it at Phrases 5, just my luck at luck n. Phrases 2f.
      (b) Modifying noun phrases with the.
      (c) Modifying interrogative pronouns and adverbs introducing a subject or object clause.
    • g. In negative contexts in preceding uses of sense 2.

Summary

So just has numerous complex uses, virtually none of which can be usefully described by a simplistic part-of-speech assignment like “adverb”. It is possible that learners’ dictionaries fail to represent all these. However, if you have a good enough dictionary to consult, not an abridged one, you will discover that these nuanced uses and many are all described there.

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    It should be said that "just" and other similar adverbs like "only", "solely" and "merely" etc. modify NPs not nouns or nominals. It's an important distinction.
    – BillJ
    Nov 13, 2022 at 8:29
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In a comment, FumbleFingers wrote:

I think "parts of speech" aren't always helpful. I suppose in principle just is an "adverb" here, but I don't see how that categorisation would help anyone. I'd say it's far more useful to call it a mitigator (opposite of intensifier).

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    I agree that questions about "part of speech" are rarely useful, normally because the players aren't using a full deck. Even if you pin it down as fine as BillJ, though, what good does it do anyone to know what label to pin on it? Do you make cards to put on sentences? Do you rest secure in your knowledge that you now understand Grammar? Nov 12, 2022 at 17:30
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    @JohnLawler I really don't know what the people who keep asking such questions are hoping to answer or learn. I can never figure out what real-world problem they're being presented with that would be solved with a part-of-speech answer.
    – tchrist
    Nov 12, 2022 at 17:38
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    Just dropping by to note that "formal" grammar demands a subject pronoun: It's just I. But don't ever do that. Nov 12, 2022 at 17:45
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    That's why "formal" grammar is a fiction. It's neither formal nor a grammar; it's just a catechism of shibboleths proffered by teachers to those who want acceptance. Most of us outgrow it, just like we outgrow playground bullying. But not everyone; "formal" grammar is just the most socially acceptable form of racism. It has no other purpose. Nov 12, 2022 at 18:03
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In a comment, Edwin Ashworth wrote:

It's certainly a focusing or limiting modifier, and I'm not the only person who thinks it's sufficiently different from prototypical adverbs to leave it at that.

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