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Simple past or present perfect?

Nov 26, 2013

In my family there’s an ongoing discussion between me and my husband on whether it’s correct to say I’ve just done it or I just did it. I’d use the former, he’d use the latter.Being the grammar nut I am, I had never even considered the possibility of being wrong.

Until recently.

Turns out they are both correct, depending on which part of the world you live in. Americans would say I just did it, Brits I have just done it.

However, just one is also grammatically correct.

What grammar books teach you

Take any grammar book, American or British, and it will tell you that the adverb just with the meaning of recently is paired with a present perfect (I have done). When you pair it with a simple past (I did) it generally means only.

Let’s take one of my favourite sentences:

  • I have just had an ice-cream = Grammatically, it means that you have recently had an ice-cream.
  • I just had an ice-cream = Grammatically, it means that you only had an ice-cream (only one in the whole day or only one as opposed to two ice-creams).

So when you finish your ice-cream and throw the cup away, if you want to be grammatically correct you will have to say, I have just had an ice-cream (or better, the contracted, more colloquial form I’ve just had an ice-cream).

What English natives teach you

Teaching an ESL student such a rule, though, will backfire.

He’ll come back the next day (at least my students do) with hundreds of examples of the adverb just (meaning recently) used with a simple past (I just had anice-cream, dropping the “have” part).Songs, movies and ads are full of such examples.

American English seems to like dropping letters and words. Take a look at this:

  • colour, neighbour, flavour (UK) -> color, neighbor, flavor (US)
  • travelled, travelling, traveller (UK) -> traveled, traveling, traveler (US)
  • manoeuvre, paediatrics (UK) -> maneuver, pediatric (US)
  • catalogue, dialogue (UK) -> catalog, dialog (US)
  • the list goes on and on…

Some of my British friends would describe this American tendency to drop letters and words as laziness, but when it comes to this use of “just”, I’m afraid they’ll have to accept it.

A quick research in language forums and blogs shows in fact that the trend is picking up speed in British English, too.

It’s not grammatically correct, but it seems to be what most people use.

I’m a teacher. What do I teach my students?

The grammar addict in me would discard the American use and stick to the grammatically correct one. But I’m also the kind of teacher who points out the different American and British spellings or explains the American gonna and wanna for going to and want to.

I do believe that grammar is the body of any language, but people are its soul. We live in an era where people, not grammar, define a language and English is one of the greatest examples of a lively and dynamic language that evolves daily with and thanks to the people who use it.

So what do I teach my students?

I tell them that, out of grammatical habit (if such a thing even exists), I would normally use the form I’ve just had an ice-cream and they ought to use it, too, in school tests or official language exams.

But when it comes to speaking the language, they should use whatever seems more natural to them. And if that is I just had an ice-cream, it’ll be just fine.

Tell me what you think

Did you like it? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear from you.

The blog

I write mainly about Montessori, parenthood, and multilingualism. Here are some recent posts.

Montessori
One day a few years ago my husband came home and said, "Why don't we put a mattress on the floor in the baby room? It'd be much more natural". "Never" was my reply. That's how our Montessori journey started. Since then we've been living, breathing and applying the philosophy at home day in and day out, starting from ourselves. Because educating children starts from the parents.
An example of how I practice empathy with my kids
How I show empathy to my children
Happy 4th birthday, Emily
Montessori New Year's tradition
Montessori Peace table
Audiobooks of real-life stories for kids
10k on Instagram!
Terrible twos
The organs of the body: workshop for kids
Kids understand if you give them honesty
Living sustainably
Living sustainably for me doesn’t only mean to have a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It means to make decisions that are sustainable for our planet, the people on it, but also for our life, our lifestyle, and our happiness. It means to take any daily chance to evolve and be happier, healthier, kinder, more responsible and more caring human beings—the only sustainable way for a meaningful future.
Face yoga is an act of self love
Why you should wear the same outfit twice on Instagram
The power of creating habits (and why you should do it, even if you then break them!)
Responsible eating is the diet of the future (Would you like to teach it to your kids?)
The power of NOT complaining: can you do it for a whole month?
Clean up your planet, please!
Infographic: 8 steps to switch to cloth nappies (a guide for reluctant parents)
A personal note on happiness
A personal note on social media
A change of life always widens your horizons
New to La Tela?
I’ve prepared collections on various topics that I’ve written over the years. Perhaps you’ll find one that interests you.

Travel

We sold everything to travel the world for two years. We're currently in New Zealand.

Books

In 2020 I wrote 4 books for the Italian collection “Gioca and Impara con il metodo Montessori” curated by Grazia Honegger Fresco. The collection is a project by Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport.

We also implemented the workshops of the last 15 volumes of the collection with Oliver and Emily.

Podcast

On my podcast, “Educare con calma”, I talk about various topics, from Montessori to sustainability. Only in Italian!

Jan 15, 2021 • 20m
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In questo episodio di Educare con Calma parliamo di come offrire indipendenza in casa attraverso l'ambiente. Vi parlo dell'importanza dell'ambiente (anche nelle scuole Montessori), di quanto sia importante apportare piccoli cambiamenti in casa per dare più indipendenza ai bambini, e anche di come purtroppo questo non sia sufficiente… Questo tema è uno dei primi che avevo in mente di trattare sul podcast… meglio tardi che mai! 🌸 -- Come appoggiare il podcast: Io non faccio pubblicità e non acc...
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Jan 8, 2021 • 31m
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In questo episodio di Educare con Calma rispondo alle vostre domande (più ripetute) sul nostro stile di vita di viaggiatori a tempo pieno: perché lo abbiamo scelto, come ci manteniamo, come permettiamo lo sviluppo sociale dei bambini e molto di più. Vi lascio anche alcuni articoli relazionati a ciò di cui parlo nell'episodio: I bambini devono uscire dalla propria zona di comfort  Vuoi un cambiamento nella tua vita? Trova la grotta! Se ti va, lasciami un commento sotto gli articoli per farmi s...
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Why La Tela di Carlotta?
I dreamed of the name La Tela di Carlotta. One morning I woke up and in my dreams I had created a blog named just like the American novel (Charlotte's Web). Many years and endless ups and downs later, this web of thoughts and stories is my work. It took me a long time to understand what kind of online presence I wanted and today I know: I'm transparent, I show real life, I don't advertise, I only recommend sustainable brands (and not only because they pay me) and I believe in the value of my blog and my courses—because if we don't believe in the value of our work, no one will believe in it for us.
Carlotta
Carlotta dreaming of La Tela
I know! I don't want it to be over yet either.