1

I know for a fact now that 'yet' is heard used in American English in affirmative statements like the following. 1 and 2 (and perhaps 3) are okay but 4. I just can't seem to see the rules with this. It has got to do with 'time' being early, and 'yet' has to be placed at the end of the sentence and right after the time expression. But I can't figure out why 4 is off.

  1. A: We've got to hurry! B: Oh, calm down. It's early yet.
  2. A: Is he coming back soon? Has he finished his job in Beijing? B: No, he has two years yet.
  3. We have a long time yet. We still can go to the gym.
  4. We are only thirty minutes into the work yet. But I'm already tired.

Added queries: (1) the word or phrase before 'yet' --- what would you say other than 'early' or the time expressions like 'two years,'a long time' etc.? (2) Would you say, "There is three hours yet" to mean "We have three hours yet"?

  • Yet generally refers to time in the future, and the thirty minutes in 4 has already happened. – Peter Shor Jun 10 '15 at 12:42
  • Does 4 sound idiomatic none the less to your ears? – Sssamy Jun 10 '15 at 12:52
  • 2
    Look up yet in a good dictionary and also check its use-cases. Good Luck. – Kris Jun 10 '15 at 13:26
  • Yet, it's a lot of effort to look in a dictionary Kris. – Fattie Jun 10 '15 at 13:43
  • I did look that usage up in a large number of dictionaries, but it didn't yield a rule regarding how this 'yet' is used specifically. This entry has limitation in its use, it seems like. – Sssamy Jun 10 '15 at 13:51
8

The adverbial yet stands at the junction of past and future, expressing the persistence of action in time:

...used as an adverb, yet defines an action's persistence in time. The word can define an action in the past, present or future:

  • I have never yet been late.

  • I yet stand.

  • I will yet arrive.

Wikipedia.org

  1. The first example from Wikipedia is persistence through the past into the present with implications of the future. Examining my past performance I have never been late, and that past performance offers an implicit promise of the future.

  2. The second example is persistence in the present with implications of the past. I am still standing, but the larger context indicates that the past circumstances have not necessarily been favorable.

  3. The third example is persistence in the future with implications of past and present. Through the past and up to the present, I have not arrived, but I will eventually arrive in the future.


The polarity behavior of yet requires a specific licensing context, which is a pivot between negative and positive polarity. Toward the past yet tends to be a negative polarity item, but it tends to pivot into a positive polarity item toward the future. This polarity pivot can happen in the present, depending on its connection to the context of past and future. Examining the Wikipedia examples:

  1. I have never yet been late expresses negative polarity in the past and in the present--I have never been late and implies a pivot to positive polarity toward the future--[I will continue that performance].
  2. I yet stand implies negative polarity toward the past--[Against implied opposition]--and expresses a pivot to positive polarity in the present--I stand.
  3. I will yet arrive implies negative polarity toward the past and in the present--[Though I have not arrived], and expresses a pivot to positive polarity toward the future--I will arrive.

Examining the polarity of yet in definitions at Oxford Dictionaries Online:

adverb

1.0 Up until the present or a specified or implied time; by now or then:
I haven’t told anyone else yet
aren’t you ready to go yet?
I have yet to be convinced

Emphasis added

The expressed polarity toward the past is consistently negative, and a pivot to positive polarity toward the future is consistently expressed or implied, while the polarity in the present is determined by its connection to past and future.

  • I haven't told anyone, [but I may tell someone in the future].
  • You may not be ready to go yet, [but you may be ready in the future].
  • [I am not convinced], but may be convinced in the future

[WITH SUPERLATIVE]: the congress was widely acclaimed as the best yet

Emphasis added

Within the historical perspective of the statement, the comparison of the "current" congress to those of the past creates a negative polarity toward the past and pivots to positive polarity in the present.

  • [Other congresses were not as good], but this one is the best.

1.1 [WITH NEGATIVE] As soon as the present or a specified or implied time:
wait, don’t go yet

Emphasis added

The polarity in the present is expressed as negative, while the pivot to a positive polarity toward the future is implied--[you may go in the future].

I hope to continue for some time yet

Emphasis added

An negative polarity in the present is implied--[there are forces that might oppose my hope] and yet pivots to a positive polarity toward the future.

1.3 Referring to something that will or may happen in the future:
further research may yet explain the enigma I know she’s alive and I’ll find her yet

The polarity toward the past or in the present is implied as negative--[past research has not explained the enigma]...[there may be reasons to believe she is dead], and yet pivots to positive polarity toward the future.

2.0 Still; even (used to emphasize increase or repetition):
snow, snow, and yet more snow
yet another diet book
the rations were reduced yet again

3.0 In spite of that; nevertheless: every week she gets worse, and yet it could go on for years

The positive-negative comparisons create a pivot, extending the normal licensing context for yet.


Examining the examples of the OP:

  1. A: We've got to hurry! B: Oh, calm down. It's early yet.

The context implies a negative polarity in the present rush and pivots to a positive polarity toward the future.

  1. A: Is he coming back soon? Has he finished his job in Beijing? B: No, he has two years yet.

No creates a negative polarity in the present time frame, and yet pivots into a positive polarity toward the future--he will come back after two years.

  1. We have a long time yet. We still can go to the gym.

The context implies a negative polarity in the present time frame--[we don't need to go to the gym now], and yet pivots into a positive polarity toward the future--we can go to the gym sometime in the future.

  1. We are only thirty minutes into the work yet. But I'm already tired.

Only creates a negative polarity toward the past and the conjunction but extends the negative polarity in the present, but the necessary pivot into a positive polarity is missing. The pivot would have been expressed by yet as a conjunction, if the sentence had been written:

We are only thirty minutes into the work, yet I'm already tired .


Conclusion

In the OP, the fourth example is not idiomatic--even thought the definitions fit-- because the context defies the licensing context for yet, which expresses or implies a pivot in polarity between past, present and future.

  • I made a group of sentences, considering the polarity change. What do you think of it? It goes from negative to positive --- 'don't have to stay' to 'have to stay': It's only 10:00 am. I can go to the gym yet, but I need to stay at home from 2:00 pm. My kids come back home early today. – Sssamy Jun 14 '15 at 1:26
  • It's encouraging, @Sssamy, to see you experimenting with the use of yet and the concept of polarity. Can you identify the polarity pivot that actually serves as the licensing context for yet in your sentences? – ScotM Jun 14 '15 at 2:30
  • @ScotM, my intended pivot is from 'I don't have to say at home (so I could go to the gym)' to 'I have to stay home.' It's negative to positive, isn't it? I'm hoping my understanding of the word 'pivot' is okay. – Sssamy Jun 14 '15 at 5:58
  • The pivot I perceive is in the present from the negative [It's not too late], implied by the word only in the expression it's only 10:00 AM, to the positive future: I can go to the gym. That future boundary of 2:00 PM, which informs the present deadline presents a very interesting complexity that seems to stretch yet into a broader usefulness, but the glory of English semantics and syntax is its reasonable flexibility. – ScotM Jun 14 '15 at 13:41
2

In the fourth sentence, yet almost means so far.

We are only thirty minutes into the work so far.

In the previous sentences, yet conveyed the meaning of still. Try substituting 'so far' in these sentences, you'll find that they make no sense.

In my opinion, still or yet(especially in the second and the third sentences) convey that there is still something in stock, for the future(For ex: He has two years yet.(his completion of two years is a part of the future))

So far or yet as used in the last sentence makes me think about the past(For ex: We are only thirty minutes into the work yet.(we have successfully worked through thirty minutes only))

You can use this link to find the different definitions of yet.

Think about it and let me know if the information that I provided helped.

  • So to your ears, does 4 sound fine, except it doesn't mean 'still' but 'so far'? – Sssamy Jun 10 '15 at 12:51
  • Yes! Absolutely! Among the many synonyms of 'yet', you'll find 'so far' . I think that explains the usage of 'yet' as 'so far' in some contexts. – Aishwarya A R Jun 10 '15 at 12:56
  • @AishwaryaAR: To save the OP the trouble, maybe you could provide a reference which supports your statement. It's a good practice to add references, even for words which seem common. I'm sure you've seen answers like that. – Tushar Raj Jun 10 '15 at 13:08
  • I ask because I'm kind of on the fence in this case. – Tushar Raj Jun 10 '15 at 13:11
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    +1 Actually, @AishwaryaAR, your answer makes perfect sense :) It was a response to the direct question : So to your ears, does 4 sound fine, except it doesn't mean 'still' but 'so far'?. Your response was: Yes! Absolutely! In light of your good answer, that response seemed strange to me too. I understand the usage of yet is actually broadening, but it seems wise for people to perceive that shift in the context of the historical usage. It really would be a shame to loose the nuance of yet completely. – Morgan Horse Jun 12 '15 at 15:05

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