John has spoken to his uncle just now or John spoke...?

3

Recently I found a pair of sentences in a grammar practice book:

John has just spoken to his uncle.
John spoke to his uncle just now.

The sentences are almost the same. They only differ in the position of "just". I don't know why one sentence is present perfect and the other past simple. Could anyone explain why?

user55846

Posted 2017-05-25T05:54:42.073

Reputation: 31

@fixer1234 I think it's present perfect vs past simple. – user178049 – 2017-05-25T06:40:56.213

The sentences are almost the same. They just differ in position of "just" in them. I don't know why in one sentence is present perfect and in another one past simple. – user55846 – 2017-05-25T06:42:49.420

You may use either. There is no need in using the Present Perfect as is. Context makes it clear. – SovereignSun – 2017-05-25T07:17:24.830

Answers

1

This might be a case of confusion because you were focused on the wrong words. The position of "just" isn't the relevant difference. What is defining the tenses is that the first sentence says, "John has spoken" and the second sentence says, "John spoke".

As SovereignSun points out, aside from learning tenses, that difference is pretty inconsequential in this particular example. As a practical matter, the meanings of the two sentences are virtually the same. This is a case where it would be hard to describe a difference in nuance between the sentences.

fixer1234

Posted 2017-05-25T05:54:42.073

Reputation: 5 349

Ohhh, there are differences in nuance. "John has just spoken to his uncle" suggests that we've been waiting for them to talk for some reason, and now it's finally happened. Maybe we hoped they would talk and we were worried that John wouldn't do it. Whew! Now everything should be OK. Or maybe now that John has spoken to his uncle, we need to finish robbing John's apartment pronto because John is now surely on his way back. The simple present tense doesn't carry those kinds of hints or pointers to context. Yeah, I know, I should write a separate answer, but I need to stop this. ;) – Ben Kovitz – 2017-06-27T01:09:49.643

@BenKovitz, I don't see that nuance. You could imagine such a history or situation for either case. I'm not seeing how the first sentence invites it more than the second. – fixer1234 – 2017-06-27T01:25:52.463

Indeed you could imagine the same contexts for either. But people usually choose the present perfect with "just" to suggest those sorts of implications by drawing attention to some process that just completed or just started. If nothing was completed or started by John's tête-à-tête with his uncle, it would be strange to choose the present perfect. IOW, the simple present makes you think "So what?" The present-perfect version makes you wonder what's in the offing (or just offed)—and expect that that should imply an answer to "So what?" – Ben Kovitz – 2017-06-27T01:49:07.913

@BenKovitz, alright, now that I know what to look for, let me take some more mushrooms and see if that difference becomes apparent. :-) BTW, are you talking about the tenses in general or these two sentences? I was referring to these specific examples in the answer. – fixer1234 – 2017-06-27T02:07:42.493

Shrooms is za only way to sort out thi Englsh. Srsly, I was only talking about those two examples. The word "just" narrows the topic down quite a lot. BTW, in case it's not clear, I was (almost) agreeing with you: the difference in nuance is indeed hard to describe. (And I just yielded to temptation and wrote another answer about present perfect! That one was way easier than this one, though, because it has a very specific context. That's it, I'm closing the laptop for the night!)

– Ben Kovitz – 2017-06-27T02:52:15.673

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A year-old question, but I just realized that there is another interpretation. The meaning of just that has been addressed in comments and my other answer is "very recently". In that spoken usage, just would typically be an emphasized word.

However, just can also mean "only". In that spoken usage, the word that just modifies ("spoken" and "now" in these examples), would typically be the one that is emphasized. For this usage, the meanings of the examples are different.

John has just spoken to his uncle.

Scenario 1: John and his uncle have been estranged for decades and you hear that they made some form of contact. Did they get together and engage in some activity together, or merely talk by phone?

Scenario 2: You've heard third-hand about information passed on by John from his uncle. You're trying to establish some context to gauge how accurate it might be. Did John meet with his uncle, who actually showed him something, or did they merely have a phone conversation during which his uncle mentioned something that John may have misinterpreted?

The first sentence example would be an answer to these questions. John only spoke with his uncle, there was no other activity.

John spoke to his uncle just now.

Scenario: John has had a number of opportunities to speak to his uncle regarding some matter. Has he procrastinated and broached the subject for the first time moments ago, or has he discussed it on prior occasions, also?

The second sentence example would be an answer to this question.

fixer1234

Posted 2017-05-25T05:54:42.073

Reputation: 5 349