Grammar

Just As Soon or Just Assume? Deciphering a Strange Idiom

If you’re comparing your desire of two options, should you say you would just as soon or just assume take a certain action?

The idiom just as soon has a clear meaning…until you begin to overthink it a little. (And let’s face it: those of us who are into grammar often love overthinking things!)

Yes, the correct form is just as soon, not “just assume.” But it is one of those fairly common phrases that is almost always encountered in the form of spoken word, which allows for the possibility it can be heard and misunderstood as “just assume” instead.

Here’s an example:

I’d just as soon finish the report before I leave tonight than come in early tomorrow.

Wow, that sounds like something I’d say! It’s worth noting that the word in the middle is than, not then. The word than is used to compare two things.

In this usage, just as soon means “prefer” or “rather:”

I’d rather finish the report before I leave tonight than come in early tomorrow.

But in some cases, the idiom takes a unique turn. I had a very funny co-worker years ago who would come up with a line like this:

I’d just as soon set my hair on fire than work with her again.

It’s a figurative illustration, of course; he wouldn’t have wanted to actually set his hair on fire. But the phrasing was constructed to show an extreme distaste for an option or a requirement. Given a choice, he’d surely just work with the person he didn’t care for rather than light a match to his own scalp. But if he had a choice of taking the last option or not taking that option, he would not take it.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.