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Can You Use “Just” With the Past Perfect Tense?

Understanding the various past tense forms in English can make even the most studied speakers feel like they are trying to master rocket science. How can you be sure which words to use and when to use them? 

You can use the word “just” with past perfect tense. The past perfect tense indicates that one event happened before another event, both in the past and at some point earlier than the present moment. Thus, when you use the word “just” with the past tense, you are showing that a particular event occurred only a short time ago.

We’ll break down the meaning of the word “just” first and then show you how you can use it correctly when writing in the past perfect tense. Keep reading.

Understanding Past Tense Forms

There are three general tenses with which you can communicate that something happened in the past: simple past, present perfect, and past perfect. We won’t go through each in detail here. 

Rather, we’ll focus on the past perfect and how (and why) you can use the word “just” when writing and speaking in this past tense form. Let’s first go through a quick overview of each.   

Simple Past

Simple past is probably the most straightforward form of past tense. It means that something happened in the past and relates to events having a historical context. 

With this tense, you’re going to use the past tense form of a verb, and often you’ll also use an adverb that denotes time, such as in “Yesterday, I walked home from school.” 

There are also progressive and continuous forms of past tense.  If you’d like to learn more about past tense forms, take a look at “Can I Use Present Perfect and Past Perfect in the Same Sentence?” or “Can We Use Past Perfect Alone?” 

Present Perfect

Present perfect is a bit confusing because the name implies that it is a present tense form. But, it means that some event happened in the past that results in a present consequence or relation to a present situation. 

This is a common tense that you will and can use with the word “just.” Here are a couple of examples:

  • I just spoke to mom on the phone.
  • Did you see what just happened?

Past Perfect

The past perfect sounds more confusing than it is. It simply means that one past event, whether an independent action or a continuous condition, happened in the past more distantly than another event, also in the past (source). 

This is the reason that “just” works well with past perfect tense. 

Suppose you want to show that one thing happened in the past before another event that also happened in the past. In that case, the word “just” allows you to show the relationship between those events and that one event was only a short time before or earlier than the other.

Here’s a simple example of past perfect without the use of “just”:

  • Sadly, the cat had gotten sick before we adopted her.  
  • My mom had worked at the restaurant for years before she became the manager. 

You’ll note that each example shows how two events happened in the past, one in the more distant past than the other.  

If you want to show that these events happened relatively close in time, adding the word “just” will do the trick. Take a look at the first example, this time with the word “just”:

  • Sadly, the cat had just gotten sick before we adopted her.  

Now, we know that the cat had gotten sick only a short time before the speaker adopted her.  

Here’s another example:

  • I had just gotten home when I realized someone had broken into my house.

Again, in this example, adding the word “just” shows that the speaker arrived home and, in a short time, realized that their house had been broken into. 

Image by Nick Fewings via Unsplash

Understanding the Various Meanings of the Word “Just”

One of the challenges of knowing how to use the word “just” correctly in any tense is first understanding its various meanings and how to use it — of which there are quite a few. 

First, the word “just” is an adverb, which means that it is a word that can modify an adjective, a verb, or another adverb in order to express a relation of time, place or circumstance, manner, cause, or degree.

“Just” can also be a noun at times, meaning that something is “right,” relating to the idea of justice. But we won’t focus on that too much here since using it with past perfect tense means you’ll be using it as an adverb.  

In the context of this article, we’re going to focus on understanding how we can use the adverb “just” correctly to add more detail with respect to time when writing in the past tense.  

But first, let’s break down the different meanings and uses for the word.

Adding Emphasis With “Just”

You can use “just” to add emphasis to your statements, such as “My sandwich was just delicious.” In this context, “just” shows that the sandwich was simply or absolutely perfect.  

You can use the word similarly in a more negative context — perhaps you’ve heard a parent or two (maybe even yourself!) yell, “Just get in the car. We’re going to be late!”  Here, “just” adds emphasis to an imperative statement or direct command.  

And while you can certainly use the word “just” to add emphasis, you can also use it to soften the tone of a question or expression. 

You’ll most likely use it in this way when requesting something from someone or asking someone to do something for you, such as “Can you just grab my water bottle before you leave?” Or, “Will you just shut the blinds so that I can take a nap?”

Finally, you can also use “just” to show that something could happen or may be successful. You might use it in this way if you are trying something but are uncertain whether or not it will work. Here’s an example: “I don’t have the right tool, but this paperclip just might work.” 

With each of these uses, the tone of your speaking is what matters, whether you want to indicate a level of urgency as in the first examples, add gentleness to a request in the second, or show that something has a small chance of occurring as with the third.  

Using “Just” as a Synonym for “Only”

You can also use “just” as a synonym for the word “only” (source). You might say, “I just have five dollars in my wallet.” You are likely indicating that you need more than what you may have.  

You’ll often hear the word in this way if you are shopping in a store and seem to be lost or looking for something. An employee may ask you if you need help, and a common response that you can give is, “No, I’m just browsing.”  

Similarly, you can use the word when having a conversation in which you want to correct someone or show that something is not important. 

The connotation here, or the emotion and feeling the word implies, is more negative than in the first two examples above. In this context, you might say, “I’m just trying to help.” Or, “It just doesn’t matter anymore.”  

One final way that you can use “just” as a synonym for only — “merely” and “simply” are also good synonyms — is to show that you are talking about a small part of a whole, such as with “I just need one more apple for the pie.”  

Using Just to Show Similarity

Another way that you can use “just” in your writing is to show similarity between two (or more) people, things, or ideas. Below are a few examples.

  • Regardless of skin color or language, we are all just human.
  • My sister worked just as hard as I did in school, but she often struggled.   

Using Just to Express a Relationship to Time and Tense

While the uses of “just” we mentioned above are very common ways that you can incorporate the word into your speaking and writing, the main focus here will be on using the word with relation to expressing time.

You might want to use the word when you want to communicate that you are doing something at that moment but that you will finish it very soon, such as when saying, “I’m just brushing my teeth, and then I will be ready.”

You can use “just” to mean “recently” or to indicate that something happened a short time ago (source).

Here’s an example: “I just had my keys in my hand, but I seem to have misplaced them.” In other words, the speaker lost their keys recently or a very short time before the moment in which they are speaking.  

It is with this use that we’ll learn more about “just” with respect to both present perfect and past perfect tenses. 

What Tenses Can You Use With Just? 

You can use the word in various tenses depending on how you want to use “just” in your writing and what you are trying to communicate.

You can certainly use “just” with the present perfect tense, as we stated above. Remember that you’ll use this tense if you want to show that an event happened only a short time ago.

And, as you’ve seen, using “just” with past perfect helps to show that two events, both having happened in the past, happened close together in time.  

You can certainly also use “just” in the present tense, but you’ll use it differently and to illustrate a different meaning than that of showing a relationship to time. In this context, you’ll most likely be using the word “just” as a synonym for “only” or “merely.”

You might write, “I’d just like a small dish of ice cream.” In this case, we are not communicating anything related to time, but rather an amount, more specifically a small amount. Here, “just” is still an adverb because it modifies the word “like,” but you are using it for a different purpose.

Answering whether you can use “just” in future tense is not as straightforward. The simple answer is no, you cannot. However, if you are writing in the present continuous tense, some action is happening now or is ongoing and may continue into the future. 

So, in that sense, you might conclude that “just” works as part of something that will occur at a future time, but grammatically speaking, you are not actually writing in future tense at all, but rather present continuous.  

Here’s an example:

  • I am just sitting down now.  

The verb “sitting” is in the present continuous tense, but you can conclude by adding the word “just” that a person must have been standing for quite a while, is finally sitting down, and will likely stay seated into the near future.  

Is Just a Past Participle?

A participle is a word that comes from a verb but can function as both part of a verb phrase or as an adjective. 

A past participle is when you take a regular past tense verb and add an “-ed” ending, such as how “bake” becomes “baked” or “cook” becomes “cooked.” 

For irregular verbs, those that change spelling and form in past tense and do not take an “-ed” ending, you’ll likely find an -en, -t, -d, or -n ending, such as when “burn” becomes “burnt” or “give” becomes “given.” 

An easy way to think of a participle is that it is a word that looks like a verb and often is a verb but can also take another role in a sentence, such as an adjective. Here’s a quick example:

  • I gave the burnt toast to my dog.

While the root word “burn” is a verb, in the above sentence, the word “burnt” is a past participle because you are using it as an adjective to describe a noun (the toast).  Here’s another example:

  • The cooked pasta is hot.

Again, while “cook” is a verb, here you are using it to describe the pasta, and therefore you are using it as an adjective. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.

So, is the word “just” a past participle? You may be able to answer this already, but if not, the answer is no. Remember that “just” is not a verb; rather, it is an adverb — or a noun if you are using it to refer to morality or justice. Therefore, the word “just” by itself cannot be a past participle. 

Final Thoughts 

There’s no doubt that tenses can be very confusing. Remember that with past perfect tense, you are simply showing that two events both happened in the past, one before the other. Using “just” in this tense shows that those two events happened a short time apart from one another. 

Remember, too, that you can also use “just” in the present perfect tense, and when using it as a synonym for “only,” you may find that you’ll use it as part of a simple past tense sentence, too.

There are a few different meanings for “just,” but when considering the word in relation to the tense you are writing, don’t forget that you are using it to show a relationship to time, and you are also using it as an adverb in this context.