Sometimes, the most common words in the English language can cause the most trouble.
Today, we will talk about four adverbs that are often unclear to English learners. All four words relate to time in some way. They are “just,” “already,” “still” and “yet.”
There are a few reasons for the lack of clarity.
Some English learners mistake “just” and “already” as having the same meaning. The same is true for the adverbs “still” and “yet.”
Another reason for the lack of clarity may be that, in some languages, a single adverb can have many meanings. In Portuguese, for example, the word “já” means “already” and “yet” and sometimes “just.”
Whatever the reason, we are here today to lessen confusion around these adverbs and help you use them correctly.
First, close your eyes and imagine a telephone call between two friends going to the movies. You will hear the four adverbs used. Think about their meanings and how each is different:
How’s it going? Hey, quick question: Should we buy tickets online or at the theater?
Don’t worry. I already got the tickets! I bought them this morning.
You’re the best. Thanks!
Anytime. Anyway, I just left the house. I’ll be at the theater in 20 minutes.
OK. But I’m still getting ready. And I have not eaten yet. But I’ll get a taxi and be there around 6:15.
That works! When I find seats, I’ll text you the row number.
Perfect! See you soon.
What did you learn about the four adverbs and their differences?
Let’s start with the word “just.” We use “just” to say that an action has happened very recently or a short time ago. You heard one speaker say this:
Anyway, I just left the house.
The speaker means “I left the house a very short time ago.”
How long a very short time is will depend on the situation. For example, imagine that you had been going to a university for four years and graduated two weeks ago. You talk to a family member and they ask what is new. You say:
I just graduated from college! I’m so happy to finally be done.
The word “just” was correctly used here because the idea that something happened recently often depends on the time length of the action. Four years is a long time, so graduating two weeks ago is still very recent.
The word “already” is different than “just.”
We usually use “already” to say that an action has happened early or sooner than expected. Here is the example from the phone call:
Don’t worry, I already got the tickets!
Here, the speaker means “I got the tickets sooner than expected." His friend Sue did not expect that the tickets had been purchased.
The speaker did not use the word “just” here because they bought the tickets several hours ago. And, in this situation, that is not a short time ago.
Now, we turn to the adverb “still.”
We use “still” to say that an action is not yet finished, especially if we expected it to finish sooner. Here is the example from the phone call:
OK. But I’m still getting ready.
The speaker is saying, “I haven’t finished getting ready.” And, she probably expected to be ready sooner, especially since the movie starts soon.
And, finally, we have the word “yet.”
“Yet” is used for actions that someone is watching for or expecting to happen. Unlike “still,” with “yet,” there is no evidence that something was expected to finish sooner than now.
“Yet” is usually used in questions and negative sentences. A negative sentence is one that contains the word “not.”
Listen to the example of “yet” from the phone call. Notice that the sentence is negative:
And I have not eaten yet.
We also use “yet” in questions, as in this example:
Have you eaten yet? No, I haven’t.
Yet vs. Still
As you know, in English grammar, there is always an exception to the rule. Although we mainly use “yet” in negative sentences, we sometimes use the word “still." The meaning is very similar but the tone is different.
Listen to two negative sentences. One uses “yet,” while the other uses “still”:
She hasn’t graduated yet. She still hasn’t graduated.
To a native English speaker, the word “still” here has a judgmental tone. It sounds like the speaker thinks the woman has been in school too long.
Here’s another example that shows a tone change between "yet" and "still":
They haven’t heard from the doctor yet.
They still haven’t heard from the doctor.
In this example, the word “still” sounds like they have been waiting a long time to hear from the doctor. They might even be frustrated about having to wait.
So, do you have a better sense of these four adverbs yet or do you still have questions? Or both? Visit our website, where you can practice.
I’m Alice Bryant.