When and how should you use ya vs todavía?
These two Spanish words often get introduced together because they both relate to time. Specifically, they add emotion when discussing deadlines.
In this article (and podcast) you will discover some useful distinctions that will help you to better understand these two common Spanish adverbs.
To introduce the main topic, first consider two simple example questions in English:
Have you done your homework?
Have you done your homework already?
Take a look at these two questions and really think about how the word ‘already’ modifies the meaning of the second question.
Moreover, if you can grasp the role ‘already’ is playing in the second question, then you will be able to understand how ya and todavía modify Spanish sentences.
When comparing the examples above, you could infer from the second question that the homework should have been done (already) or that there is an element of surprise that the homework has (already) been done. Maybe the person asking the question is not happy about the situation. Or alternatively, they might be surprised, it depends on their tone.
In Spanish the possible translations of ya and todavía are as follows:
English: Already, before, by now and now.
English: Still, yet.
So which translation is appropriate and when?
You need to consider two decisions:
- Whether the idea you want to express is about something that has happened in the past or continues in the present.
- Whether the idea is negative or positive.
For these two considerations, you now have four possible Spanish sentence structures for ya and todavía:
|Ya||Ya + pasado||Ya + no + presente|
|Todavía||Todavía + presente||Todavía + no + pasado/presente|
Each of these quadrants represents a form of use for ya vs todavía.
The past forms (ya + pasado, todavía + no + pasado) often gets used with the present perfect tense, for details on using the present perfect check out 8 phrases that trigger the present perfect tense.
To help you understand these ideas, here are a bunch of examples. For an explanation of each, check out the podcast episode associated with this post—you can listen in the iTunes store or click the play button here:
Examples from the episode:
Have you done your homework already? – ¿Ya has hecho los deberes?
Yes have I have done my homework – Sí, ya he hecho los deberes.
No I haven’t yet done my homework – No, todavía no he hecho los deberes. (no, todavía no)
Have you already seen x-men? – ¿Ya has visto x-men?
Yes I have already seen x-men – Sí ya he visto x-men.
No I still haven’t seen x-men – No, todavía no he visto x-men.
I haven’t eaten – No he comido.
I haven’t eaten yet – Todavía no he comido.
To do the shopping – Ir de compras.
Have you done the shopping already? – ¿Ya has ido de compras?
Yes I have already done the shopping – Sí, he ido de compras.
No I haven’t yet done the shopping – No, todavía no he ido de compras. No, todavía no.
Are you happy? – ¿Estas contento?
I’m still not happy – Todavía no estoy contento.
Do you still live with your parents? – ¿Todavía vives con tus padres?
Yes I still live with my parents – Sí todavía vivo con mis padres.
No I don’t live with my parents anymore, I live with my girlfriend – No ya no vivo con mis padres, vivo con mi novia.
I’m not hungry, yet I could eat something – No tengo hambre, pero puedo comer algo.
I want it right now – Ya lo quiero.
I leave right now – Ya me voy.
Now I understand – Ya entiendo.
Yes I know – Ya lo sé.
Yeah we’ll see – Ya veremos.
Since – Ya que.
Let me know – Ya me dices.
Get out of here! – ¡Anda ya!
That’s it! – ¡Ya está!
Quote from the episode:
“Ya que la casa se quema, calentémonos en ella” – Spanish Proverb
How else could you use ya vs todavía?