Sunday 7 October 2007

'already, yet and still'

The present perfect simple is used to talk about past events which happened in periods of time that have not finished:
  • I've visited my parents three times this week (and the week still hasn't finished)
  • She's smoked a packet of cigarettes already today.

When we speak about this "unfinished time" we often use the adverbs already and yet, which can all be used to describe things which are happening or expected to happen around the present, i.e. they describe the relationship of something to the present.

Already is used to say that something is in the present or past, not the future. It may express some surprise - for example, because something has happened sooner than expected.

  • "When's Sally going to come?" "She's already here."
  • "You must go to Scotland." "I've already been.
  • " Have you already finished? That was quick!

Not yet is used to say that something which is expected is in the future, not the present or the past.

  • "Is Sally here?" "Not yet."
  • The postman hasn't come yet.

In questions, we use yet to ask whether something expected has happened.

  • Is supper ready yet?
  • Has the postman come yet?"

Note that already and yet can also be used to speak about the past, and in British English we would use the past perfect tense to do this:

  • I wanted to know if he had already left.
  • They hadn't even got up yet.

The adverb still has a similar meaning and use to already and yet, but, as Swan (ibid) says, it: is used to say that something is in the present, not the past - it has, perhaps surprisingly, not finished.

  • She's still asleep.
  • Is it still raining?
  • I've been thinking for hours, but I still can't decide.
  • You're not still seeing the Jackson boy, are you?"

Notice that it is used with the present simple and continuous tenses. Also, as with already and yet, the word still can be used with a past meaning as well. In this case, the past simple, continuous or perfect can be used:

  • When we arrived they were still at the dinner table.
  • When we arrived they were still having dinner.
  • When we arrived they still hadn't finished dinner.

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