How To Teach Present Perfect With YET And ALREADY

By Alex Case
Practical advice for teaching Have + Past Participle with “yet” and “already”.

This may be an odd way to start an article on this grammar point, but the teacher’s first task is to work out if they actually need to include it in their classes or not. Many native speakers say “Did you… yet?”/“I already did it” rather than “Have you…yet?”/“I have already done it”, making an emphasis on “correct” tense use pretty pointless. Another factor making the choice of tense unimportant is that going from Simple Past to Present Perfect cannot lead to any possible changes in meaning as long as you include “yet” and “already” (unlike changing between “Have you ever…?” and “Did ever…?”). These facts mean that most textbook and grammar book exercises that ask students to choose the right tense to go with “yet” and “already” are a complete waste of time. Error correction is also difficult when even switching randomly between the two tenses (something that a native speaker is unlikely to do) will have little or no effect on comprehension.

Having said all that, “yet” and “already” are two very useful words that are worth introducing. However, textbook and grammar book exercises that ask students to choose between “yet” and “already” have many of the same problems as ones that ask them to choose between tenses. Specifically, unlike what they might tell you, “already” can be used in most questions. For example, “Have you done it already?” expresses (probably pleasant) surprise, whereas “Have you done it yet?” is more likely to be a nag.

A negative question like “Haven’t you done it yet?” is even more clearly nagging and can’t take “already”, but using “Yes” and “No” as answers to that question can be confusing even for native speakers. In many other languages “Yes” as an answer to negative questions means “I agree with you” and therefore here it would mean “Yes, that’s right. I haven’t done it.” The rule in English is that you can’t say “Yes, I haven’t” and therefore “No” means you haven’t done it yet and “Yes” means it is already finished, but more explanation (e.g. “No, but I’ll finish it by the end of the day”) is almost certainly needed in both cases.

A tense problem that can cause comprehension difficulties is some students saying “I already do it”, which would mean “I already have that regular habit” rather than “I have already done that (once)”. This is often due to L1 interference.

Presenting Present Perfect with Yet and Already

Although I’ve been quite rude about textbooks above, as I am one of the speakers who do use Present Perfect with “yet” and “already” I am usually fairly happy following the presentation in the book. Realistic situations for this structure to come up a lot include progress check meetings and conversations (e.g. for a wedding with “Have you sent out the invitations yet?”), more chatty conversations with people who are halfway through doing something (e.g. travel with “Have you seen the Taj Mahal yet?”) and giving advice (“Have you tried St John’s Wort?”). More fanciful and amusing situations to present “yet” and “already” include someone who is trying desperately to beat a world record (“I’ve already tried sitting in a bath of beans, but I kept needing to go to the toilet”), people boasting about how helpful and efficient they are (“I’ve mopped all the floors and ironed all my mother’s dresses”), or people boasting how advanced their seven-year-old children are (“He’s already been accepted into university” “Mine has already finished university”).

Students will then need to analyse the language that is used in the conversations in order to notice that “yet” is often used in questions and negatives and “already” is often used in positive statements. I would probably point out that Past Simple is not a mistake and can’t lead to misunderstandings, and with higher-level classes and those who are prone to ask tricky questions I would present the difference between “Have you…yet?” and “Have you… already?” fairly early on. Negative questions and their answers should probably wait until later, so the presentation stage should be designed so that that grammar point doesn’t come up yet. The differences between “Do you…yet?” and “Have you… yet?” can probably also wait until error correction in the practice stage(s).

Classroom activities for Present Perfect with Yet and Already

As I have pointed out above, it is very difficult to design a gapfill exercise where only one answer is possible, and it probably isn’t worth the effort. Written exercises that are more useful include matching questions and answers (“Have you done your homework yet?” “Nearly”) and matching sentence halves (“Have you been to the shops” + “yet? It’s nearly dinner time.”)

More useful still are controlled-speaking activities where students can become comfortable with producing the form. The situations described above as suitable for the presentation stage (e.g. boasting) can also be used as roleplays in the practice stage. There are also a good number of speaking games for this grammar point.

There are quite a few guessing games you can play, the simplest of which is connected to the idea of being halfway through a holiday. One student draws a route round the world on a map, without showing their partner. They then choose one of their stops as the place where they are now. Their partner asks if they have already been to certain places and gets answers like “No, not yet. I’m going there next, though”, “Yes, I went there first” and “No, I’m not planning on going there. I’ve already done the Pacific islands.” The person asking the questions uses these answers to plot the past and future of the route and finally guess the present position.

A more personalised game is to ask students to get as many “No, not yet” answers from their partner as they can with questions like “Have you had a bath today?” and “Have you been to Hawaii?” If they probably won’t do the thing at all they should answer with “No, and I probably won’t”, in which case the person who asked the question doesn’t get a point.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet April 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet

One Comment

  • Neil says:

    Thanks for your frank comments about ‘yet’ and ‘already’. Good exercise though, to get an idea of using these words and their relation to time.

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