Stage 5 Stage 6

Two words that can cause some confusion for English learners are the words ‘still’ and ‘yet’. Here is a basic explanation of when we use each word:

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– We use ‘still’ to communicate that something is in progress. It could refer to something that was in progress in the past or even in the future, but it’s most often something in progress at the moment.

– We use ‘yet’ for something that hasn’t happened. So, logically we can surmise that it’s used to refer to a future action that we are sure will happen. Let’s look at some examples of each.


~ I can’t meet you for a coffee because I’m still doing my homework.
~ We can go to the beach because it’s still summer and that means it’s still hot!
~ Thirty minutes later and he’s still in the bathroom!


~ We can’t leave because Julia hasn’t arrived yet.
~ Have you written your essay yet?
~ I’m worried: he hasn’t called me yet.

Keeping in mind the explanations of ‘still’ and ‘yet,’ we can see that the examples above follow the rules. All of the examples of ‘still’ describe an action that is in progress, and the examples of ‘yet’ describe actions that haven’t happened (yet). We can infer that they will happen at some time in the future: Julia will arrive, you will write your essay, and he will eventually call me.

Now we must address another difference between these two words. Did you notice the variety of sentences used in the above examples? When learning certain differences between words in English, we sometimes speak of positive sentences, negative sentences, and questions; the topic of ‘still’ and ‘yet’ is no different. We use ‘still’ in positive sentences, and ‘yet’ in negative sentences and questions. However, this is a general guideline (as demonstrated in the example sentences), as we can use ‘still’ in all types of sentences. Let’s examine this idea further.

‘Still’ can also be used in questions and negative sentences, and when we do this, it often communicates surprise or irritation. In order to express the surprise or irritation, we put a heavy stress on the word ‘still’ when we say it in spoken English. Consider the following examples:

~ Are you still in the bathroom? Come on, hurry up!
~ You still haven’t written your essay? You need to do it immediately!
~ He still doesn’t understand…what an idiot!
~ I can’t believe they still don’t know the answer…they need to study more!

But ‘still’ can be used in questions without this feeling of surprise or irritation. In this case, we don’t put a heavy stress on the word in spoken English. For example:

~ Is Peter still working there?
~ Is it still raining? I need to know if I should take my umbrella.

We can see that these questions don’t communicate any surprise or annoyance; rather, they ask a neutral question regarding something that may or may not be in progress.

As mentioned before, ‘still’ is most often used to refer to something in progress at the moment (in the present), but although it’s not very common, it can refer to an action in progress in the past or future as well. Let’s see that idea in action:

~ I was still living with my parents at the time. (Referring to a specific past time)
~ I will still be cooking when you get home. (Referring to a specific future time)

That’s it! To practice ‘still’ and ‘yet,’ try the exercise.

A. Edstrom

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