“Just” in the Present Perfect

Maggie Mello

Maggie Mello is an English language teacher and materials writer who has taught at universities in the U.S. and in institutions in Spain and Brazil. She currently lives in South Bend, Indiana and is the assistant director at University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures.

In this article, Maggie highlights a special use of present-perfect verbs when they team up with the adverb just.

The two primary uses of the present perfect come easily to mind:

  • To describe an action that began in the past but continues into the present;
  • To describe an action that occurred at some unspecified time in the past.


They make a good start for present-perfect novices. However, as our students develop their understanding of these uses–and apply them accurately in their writing–it is important that we  teach them a third use that is more common than we give it credit for. This is using the present perfect with just in order to indicate a past action somehow important to the present moment.

We see it in these sentences:

1. I have just submitted my homework.
2. He has just eaten dinner.
3. We’ve just reviewed the simple past.

The idea is to emphasize the recency of the past action.

Sentence 1 may be a student’s response to a teacher who has inquired about a missing assignment. The timing of this action is important to what is happening now. For this reason, the student chooses to use the present perfect with just to stress that the assignment was turned in only moments ago.

Sentence 2 might be spoken in a conversation between a babysitter and a child’s parents. In response to a father’s inquiry over the phone about how the child is doing, the babysitter decides to use just and the present perfect in order to emphasize that only now has the child eaten. The babysitter knows that the father expected the child to have eaten earlier, for which reason she uses just to stress the later-than-expected timing.

Imagine sentence 3 in a conversation between a lead teacher and her substitute teacher. While providing a lesson plan to the substitute teacher for the coming day, the teacher elects to use just and the present perfect to underscore the recency of the past event. Her point may be that the substitute teacher should not expect to see many mistakes in the students’ use of the simple past, as the teacher had gone over it in the very recent past.

Use situations like these when teaching this use of the present perfect. This downloadable activity can give your students some practice.

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