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What’s the big difference between these two?

The context is that I saw something, let say a minute ago.

I don’t know if the combination of “just” and “saw” works, because “just” means that the thing I saw was seen a minute ago and “saw” means that the action is completely finished.

If, in this context, “just saw” is good, then in which context can we use “just see”?

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Both are acceptable, but say different things. What are you trying to convey here? Is there a larger context? “See” vs. “saw” is easily answered with a dictionary, so we need to know more about your confusion and current understanding in order to provide the best answer. –  Tyler James Young Apr 17 at 13:59
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Something neither of the current answers mention is that “just” can mean “barely” as well, so if you say “I can just see it” people will think you can sort of almost see something, like a balloon disappearing into the sky. “Just” can also be a sort of hedge, whereby the speaker might indicate a lack of objective truth to the following statement while claiming a certain view a little more softly (e.g. “I just see it that way. Why? I just do.” or “I just think you might want to ask permission first.”). –  Tyler James Young Apr 17 at 18:12
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

See is a present tense. Saw is a past tense.

That's one difference between the two.

Right now, I just see the boat.

Yesterday, I just saw the boat.

However, "I just saw the boat" has two meanings depending on the context.

  1. Yesterday, I saw only the boat, not the car or airplane. When emphasis is on 'boat'.
  2. I saw the boat only two minutes ago. When emphasis is on 'just'.
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Oh yes I get it ! Thank you ! The combinaison of your pseudo and your examples is perfect ^^ –  KoObO Apr 17 at 14:27
    
@KoObO I'm going to guess that your native language is French. In English, we spell it “combination”. Cheers! –  Tyler James Young Apr 17 at 15:01
    
My mistake :( And you're right I'm French ;) –  KoObO Apr 17 at 15:23
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You missed out at least one other possible meaning. "I just saw the boat (I didn't go aboard)" –  FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 18:17
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The "I just see" statement seems to be an attempt at Present Perfect tense using the adverb "just". This tense implies that some action started in the past, and has continued to this moment. I often hear this usage in conversation, but it is an improper form of Present Perfect tense. A more correct form would be to put the word "have" in front of the adverb "just", and change the tense of the word "see" to the past tense form "seen". For example, the statement "I have just seen so many cars crash in this intersection" implies that at numerous times over an some unknown range of time in the past I have seen many cars crash in this intersection.

The "I just saw" statement is a form of Simple Past tense using the adverb "just" to imply that the action occurred very recently, but is no longer occurring. So if you were to say "I just saw the car crash", then you are saying you saw the car crash very recently but that event is now over.

You can read more about Present Perfect tense at http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html. You can read more about Simple Past tense at http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/simplepast.html.

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It's clear now, thank you for your explanation ! –  KoObO Apr 17 at 15:28
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What's complicating this issue is that the adverb "just" has several distinct meanings that could apply here.

The meaning you're presumably asking about is "moments ago, recently". In this sense, *"I just see" is ungrammatical; "just" in this sense implies that the action occurred in the past, which contradicts the present tense "see".

You can say either "I just saw" (past simple) or "I've just seen" (present perfect); there isn't much difference in meaning between them, since in any case, "just" fixes the time of the event to the recent past. There's a slight difference in emphasis, but in most cases, expressions like:

"I just saw the movie."

and

"I've just seen the movie."

are basically interchangeable.


You can also use "just" with the present progressive tense to mean "currently, right now", as in:

"Call me back later, I'm just watching the movie."

This usage is not (yet) mentioned in the Wiktionary entry linked above, but e.g. The Free Dictionary does list "at this very instant" as one of the definitions of "just", with the example sentence "he's just coming in to land."

This may well be the meaning you were aiming for with *"I just see", although one would not usually use the verb "see" in a progressive tense (except in some secondary senses of it, such as "waiting to observe an outcome" or "being involved in a relationship with"). Normally, one would instead say e.g. "I'm just watching <something>" or "I'm just looking at <something>".


Just to confuse things, however, an alternative meaning of "just", which could also apply to your examples, is "only, simply, merely":

"I just saw a basketball game. I didn't see any gorilla."
"I just see an error message. I don't see any way to get rid of it."

What using "just" in this sense, especially with a verb in the past tense, it's often more natural to place it after the verb to make it less ambiguous:

"I saw just a basketball game. I didn't see any gorilla."

This isn't always possible, however, since it does change the meaning a bit: when placed before the verb, "just" (in this sense) applies to the whole action, whereas after the verb it only applies to the object. For instance:

"I just saw the dead rat, I didn't touch it."

is correct, whereas:

*"I saw just the dead rat, I didn't touch it."

is not; it's clear from context that "just" should be modifying the verb "see", not its object. In such cases, to avoid confusion with the other meanings of the word "just", it may be preferable to replace it with some other synonym, such as "only".

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"I saw just the dead rat, I didn't touch it" is incorrectly punctuated but not necessarily wrong as spoken English. Replacing the comma with a semi-colon, it means, "The only thing I saw was the dead rat. Also, I didn't touch the dead rat." –  David Richerby Apr 17 at 19:49
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