3

I understand, e.g. from this answer, that the phrase "not yet" is used to talk about an event that has not happened so far, but that we clearly expect to happen somewhere in the future.

I want to know if "not yet" always bears this meaning and what consequences there are for understanding if we use it in other contexts. This question is motivated by an answer on German Stackexchange that got many upvotes and states that the German "noch nicht" can always be translated as "not yet". Since "noch nicht" can have other meanings than the one described above for "not yet", I doubt this and want to check it here. For that, I picked up two cases where English learners with German background might be tempted to say "not yet", because they would use noch nicht in German.

Stating that an event, that will or will not happen in the future, has not happened so far.

Following the answer quoted at the beginning, I think one would use "still not" in this case. E.g.

1) I still haven't found what I'm looking for.
2) Despite researchng for many decades, scientists are still not capable of predicting earthquakes.

What would happen if I used "not yet" in these sentences, i.e.

1') I have not yet found what I'm looking for.
2') Despite researching for many decades, scientists are not yet capable of predicting earthquakes.

Would a native English reader still make some sense out of these sentences? Would this be the original sense, i.e. would he think "oh, that's not the best English I've ever seen, but I know what you mean", or would the alteration in meaning stay unnoticed?

Stating that some fact is not sufficient to imply some other fact

For example:

3) It was a fantastic match last night. But this victory was not yet the championship. Meaning: although it was important to win this match, we can by no means think that we already won the championship by this, too.
4) Futuristic skyscrapers are not yet Europe. Meaning: seeing a fancy skyline, like in Russia's capital Moscow, is by no means a guarantee that this country will adhere with European values or will have good and close relations with the EU. This is the phrase that the quoted German question is all about.

These two sentences are phrased using "noch nicht" in their German translations, but I have considerable doubts that it is possible to simply take the dictionary route and translate them with "not yet" the way I did. Am I right, and if yes: how wrong do these sentences sound?

2
  • Are your sample sentences translations from German??
    – Lambie
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 18:20
  • @Lambie 1) and 2) are not translations, or at least not meant as such. There I just tried to come up with typical examples for usage of "not yet". 3) and 4) are constructed from original German sentences that make use of "noch nicht" by translating it as "not yet". In the linked question on German SE, where somebody asked for the meaning of the German version of 4), some users claimed that this translation was always possible (and correct), and I simply wanted to explore whether this claim really holds true in general, and in particular for sentence 4).
    – Matthias
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 21:34

5 Answers 5

3

What would happen if I used "not yet" in these sentences...

Both "not yet" and "still not" are fine, but they carry different nuances. "Not yet" implies, strongly, the notion of "but that we clearly expect to happen somewhere in the future." "Still not" is very much weaker in that respect. So each has the following sense:

1') I have not yet found what I'm looking for, but I'm determined I will.

versus

1) I still haven't found what I'm looking for, and I'm just about ready to give up trying.

Curiously, that difference is much reduced in your examples 3 and 4. Neither of those uses of "not yet" carries the same kind of inevitability that the phrase does in the earlier examples. In fact you could probably interchange "not yet" and "still not" with little or no change in meaning for points 3 and 4.

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  • So I am wrong about 3) and 4) not being correct? And the fact that 2/2' speak about something almost impossible does not make 2' sound at least strange?
    – Matthias
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 20:00
  • I was focusing on the use of "not yet", but looking again I'd say 4 is not how a native speaker would say it, and 3 isn't much better in that respect. I get that they're trying to convey the same kind of thing as "One swallow does not a summer make", but as I say they're not doing it idiomatically. A native version of 4 could be something like "Futuristic skyscrapers don't equal European values" or maybe "Futuristic skyscrapers still don't mean we're in Europe" (the "still" to carry some of the implications of still moving forwards that "not yet" carries).
    – user8719
    Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 0:22
  • I see no difference between not yet and still haven't.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 18:22
3

1' and 2' are both fine and fairly idiomatic. (Although, a side note: you're referring to an event that may or may not happen, not one that "will or will not" happen.)

3 is a lot more dubious; it sounds fairly unnatural and a bit hard to understand properly, mostly because of the unusual metaphor usage. Instead, some verb/noun is needed. Just adding "clincher" at the end works, changing the object to "the [victory that is the] championship clincher", or the one that resolves the series. Alternatively, rephrasing a little more would get you something like "But this victory did not yet win the championship."

In the case of 4, "not yet" really doesn't fit at all, since there's little or no inherent time flow in considering whether a country is European, so "yet" is inappropriate. Instead, something like this: "Just having futuristic skyscrapers does not make a European country." (If you want to be fancy, "Merely having futuristic skyscrapers does not a European country make." Reordering "make" is an archaic usage for emphasis; it's possible to use that for other verbs, but less common.)

2

1 and 2 have the subtly different meaning that you describe. They are also idiomatic and would be clear to a native English speaker.

3 and 4 are not idiomatic and would leave an English native unsure as to their understanding.

3 could be better expressed as:

But this victory does not the championship make

4 could be better expressed as

Futuristic skyscrapers do not a European country make

Neither of these expressions are uncommon. I don't know where the idiom comes from but is the generally accepted way to express this piece of logic clearly.

1

I am going to pass on reproducing all four sentences. That said, the important point that must be made here concerns not yet used with a verb involving something happening.

Not yet [participle] and still not or still haven't [participle]. These are adverbs.

The problem with phrasing like this: "Futuristic skyscrapers are not yet Europe." is that there is no verb for the "not yet" to qualify.

  • Futuristic skyscrapers are not yet Europe. [doesn't have semantic meaning]
  • Futuristic skyscrapers have not yet sprung up in Europe. [has semantic meaning]

  • But this victory was not yet the championship. [doesn't have semantic meaning]

  • But this victory does not yet mean a championship. [has semantic meaning]

  • I still haven't found what I'm looking for. has the same information in it as:

  • I haven't found what I'm looking for yet.

In short, not yet and still in these usages require an action verb or a state one comes to or is in: - I am not yet clear on how to handle this. To be clear - I am still not clear on how to handle this. To be clear.

And, if you say: I am not yet a doctor, the implied meaning is: I have not yet become a doctor.

So, for me, sentences 3) and 4) don't work in English as written.

0

'Ever?' means 'once in your life'. The negative answer is 'never'.

– Have you EVER been to Myanmar?

– No, I have NEVER been there. / – No, I NEVER have. / – No, NEVER.

'Yet?' means 'once since you told me about your desire to do so'. The negative answer is 'not yet'.

– Have you been to Myanmar YET?

– No, I have NOT been there YET. / – No, NOT YET.

'Already' means 'sooner than expected'. It is more common in answers, positive or negative, than in questions – a question such as 'Have you finished already?' is more an exclamation than a real question. The negative answer is 'still not'.

– Do you STILL want to go to Myanmar?

– But I have been there ALREADY!

– Yes, I do, as I STILL have NOT been there. / – Yes, as I STILL have NOT.

The problem for speakers of French is that 'ever?', 'yet?', and 'already' all translate as «déjà»!

Have you ever been to China? Est-ce que tu déjà allé en Chine?

Have you been to China yet? Est-ce que tu es déjà allé en Chine?

I have already been to China. Je suis déjà allé en Chine.

1
  • I wondered about 'No, I have not yet.' and/or 'No, I not yet have.' as short answers… ?
    – user58319
    Commented May 27 at 10:52

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