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Present Perfect is used with 'just'. But many a time, I have seen people use simple past with the sentence given above. Which is correct ? Simple past or Present Perfect ?

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  • What did you just say? / What have you just said? are both perfectly correct. Feb 1 at 15:02

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Both forms are correct. There may or may not be a difference in usage and meaning, depending on the person and perhaps the region.

There are two issues: a potential difference in dialect usage and a potential difference in meaning.

Some speakers use the present perfect to describe events as still recent and "flowing" into the present situation. In the UK, I think you might say, for instance, "I have just gone for a walk and am now back." In the US, you would more likely say: "I just went for a walk..." I think this usage of the present perfect is more frequent in the UK; but I am a speaker of American English, where I think it is much less frequent unless you are expressing a clear change of state that is persisting and significant to the situation (e.g., "The milk has gone bad (and so is not drinkable now)" or "The milk went bad (so I threw it away)).

For the original question, I would say: "What did you just say?" 99% of the time, but some speakers would say "What have you just said?" in the exact same circumstance to indicate that the speech is recent and still affecting the present.

There can also be a difference in meaning for all speakers. If what was said has made a strong change in the discourse situation, you could signal this by using the present perfect. However, even here, I think American speakers would just use the simple past and leave the implications of the change implicit, since speech itself does not usually make such an evident change in circumstances.

For instance, let's say someone just accidently confessed to a shocking act in front of you. This confession represents a marked change in the social situation, but I think most American speakers would still say: "What did you just say?," with a special intonation of shock to signal that something dramatic had occurred. Saying "What have you just said" starts to signal that the speech had made a change that is significant and permanent in its effects.

I can't think of a situation in which I would naturally say: "What have you just said?," but would not feel it was incorrect or remarkable as long as the speech implied some clear change in the circumstances or at least was very recent and still affecting the present. An example of such a change might be that you thought a person always held a certain long-standing opinion and now suddenly they say the opposite of what you expected. You could say: "What have you just said?" to signal that they should recognize that their speech may have made a permanent change in your assessment of their attitudes.

I think this is a confusing area for English learners and just want to add that where the change in circumstances is more visible, more evident, or more lasting, more native speakers would use the present perfect. If you change the verb from "say" to "do," more speakers in all regions would now use the present perfect in the situations I described above to refer to the visible results of the past action.

For instance, saying "What have you just done?" is a good way to signal that you are looking at the visible results of an action or that you believe the person has made a significant and irrevocable change to the situation. In this situation, the present perfect is a more precise and sometimes stronger statement than "What did you just do," which leaves the implications of the action open to interpretation and does not directly refer to the evidence being perceived in the present.

In a typical American action movie, a character might say: "What did you just do?" to signal "I can't believe you were so stupid or reckless to do that." The are referring to the past act. The same character might say: "What have you done?" to signal that they fear terrible consequences of the action that are about to become manifest. They are referring to the current situation in the present.

If the change were not particularly dramatic, for instance putting salt instead of sugar in your coffee by mistake, you could just use the simple past and say "What did you just do?" The situation is easily remedied and so the change is not something significant or lasting in its effects on the people involved. On the other hand, you could also say something like: "Do you realize that you (have) (just) put salt in your coffee, rather than sugar? Either tense works depending on whether you want to stress a present viewpoint of the situation or a past viewpoint.

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