"I have just wanted to ask a question."

I was told above sentence is not valid and natural to refer recent past and "just" cannot mean here "very recently".( Recent past usage of present perfect tense) Because "wanted to ask" denotes a state not an action therefore it doesn't mean an observable completed event where there is a start and finish.

Therefore the sentence " I have just wanted to ask a question" only means a situation where "wanted to ask" has been continuing for some time to the present and "just" means "simply" or "only".

Can you explain if this is true? Only rule with regard to stative verbs in English is they shouldn't be used with progressive tenses. I haven't come accross any information that explain my example in any English teaching material even in present perfect tense subject.


2 Answers 2


Whoever told you that was oversimplifying a bit. (And the idea that statives can't be used with progressive tenses is also oversimplified, as I stated in an answer there.)

It's true that in this sort of case, "just" is almost certainly used to mean "only" instead of "recently". But stative verbs in English simply aren't that hard-and-fast a category, so there's a bit of wiggle room that could allow someone to use "just" in an unusual way for wordplay. This is especially true because the idiomatic way to mean "only" is

"I just wanted to ask a question."

I think this is because "just", in the sense of "very recently", makes less sense to use with something in the more distant past, which tends to make it more obvious that "only" is the correct meaning.

But using present perfect instead of past tense implies that there's some present relevance: that maybe you still do want to ask the question. And that brings back up the possibility of meaning "very recently".

There is an unambiguous way to refer to the recent past using "just", though:

"I just now wanted to ask a question."

(At a time in the very immediate past, I had a particular desire, and probably still do.)

"I just started wanting to ask a question."

(Beginning in the very immediate past and continuing, I have had a particular desire.)

You should avoid using an unusual and ambiguous construction like "I have just wanted…" unless you have a very good reason. Either of the two possible meanings can be phrased more clearly.

  • Many thanks Nathan for your valuable inputs, appreciated! I think the teachers I asked stuck to the word "action" in recent past definition of the present perfect tense. "Just want to ask/do" something in recent past didn't mean any context to them. So what I understand, no matter it is a stative verb "want to do" something can start and finish. (Maybe that's why I haven't seen any warning unlike progressive usage of stative verbs in grammar sources as mentioned in my post) There might be always exceptional usages but important thing is to avoid ambiguity as much as possible.
    – bart
    Oct 8, 2017 at 21:09

At the outset: just can mean "only" or it can have a temporal meaning, "a moment ago" or "not long ago", or, with some verbs, "recently". I don't believe that want is one of those verbs, except in very rare situations. To say "I have just wanted..." makes semantic sense only if you're recounting your mental state moment-by-moment.

We can use the present perfect with want to indicate that the want has existed recently and has continued to exist up to the present moment:

I have wanted our paths to cross for some time now.

In its sense of "a moment ago", just is incompatible with the present perfect because "just" situates the action in the past, albeit the recent past, not along a continuum that extends from the past up to the present moment. A time phrase in a present perfect construction cannot exclude the present.

I just saw him a moment ago.

I have just seen him a moment ago. ungrammatical

P.S. If the semantics of the sentence allow for the meaning recently, then just can be used with the present perfect, provided there are no other time phrases that relegate the action to the past:

I have just come from there.

I have just come from there an hour ago. ungrammatical

I have just seen her.

I have just seen her a second ago. ungrammatical

  • Thanks for your reply however I think you are more explaining a different approach mostly accepted by American usage. I've never thought "just" is incompatible with present perfect. I don't think there is consensus regarding this matter. According to this logic present perfect shouldn't be used with any recent past action/situation. Here is a link that might give more input: jakubmarian.com/…
    – bart
    Oct 9, 2017 at 12:58
  • @Bart: No, according to this logic, a time phrase that relegates the action to the past should not be used with the present perfect. With respect to the false claim that this rule would prevent the use of the present perfect with recent events, you have not paid attention to what I wrote about "a continuum that extends from the past up to the present moment". This has nothing to do with "American usage".
    – TimR
    Oct 9, 2017 at 13:25
  • Thanks.Let's clarify this way. ef.com/english-resources/english-grammar/present-perfect Do you agree "actions completed recent past + just" part on this link?
    – bart
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:14
  • Let's clarify it this way: books.google.com/ngrams/… It depends on how you understand just. If you process it semantically as similar to ago, it relegates the action to the past. If you understand it to mean "recently", it connects the past action to the speaker's present, in which case it does not create temporal discord.
    – TimR
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:35
  • With wanted, as presented in your example "I have just wanted to ask a question", just in the meaning "recently" is not really a viable option semantically. You're describing a thing you wanted to do a moment ago. Contextually, the present perfect there makes sense only if you're reporting on your state of mind, moment-by-moment.
    – TimR
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:39

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