English speakers learning Spanish have a hard time understanding the similarities and differences between ya, todavía, and aún (or aun). They don't perfectly match up with the similar English words "already," "yet," and "still." What concept exactly does each of the Spanish words express? Is there a relatively easy way for a language learner to understand the differences, or is it a matter of memorizing which word is used in which type of phrase?
The english equivalents would be:
Ya = Already
Todavía = Aún = Yet = Still
Ya he comprado el pan = I have already bought the bread.
Todavía no he comprado el pan = I still haven't bought the bread.
- Aún no he comprado el pan = I haven't bought the bread yet.
Aún also means even (With a meaning of time):
Aún cuando había pagado, el señor no me dejó ir = Even when I had paid, the man didn't let me go.
Aun is written without accent when it doesn't mean still (Todavía):
No tengo tanto dinero, ¡ni aun la mitad! = I don't have that much money, not even half of it!
Ya: When a positive finished action is spoken. "I have already done the homework" would be "Ya he hecho los deberes".
Todavía and aún. I would say they are perfect synonyms, as everyone outlined in this post. But I want to note something. If I said 'todavía', I would be more likely to do the action after saying that. Also, it is expected to me to do it and I kind of deceive someone if I don't do it. If I said 'aún', which would be slightly more vague, I am just informing, not making up any excuse.
Examples: Todavía no he arreglado el cuarto. Aún no he arreglado el cuarto. The first one would be said to slightly deceive someone (sorry, I haven't tidied up my room yet); in the second, I'm just informing or complaining (I haven't tidied up my room so I cannot find anything!).
It's just my Spanish point of view. It also might depend on the region.
Ya = something changed
Todavía = aún = something stayed the same
Sometimes todavía and ya map neatly onto still/yet and already respectively:
Are you still here? — Todavía estás aquí?
She has yet to do it. — Todavía tiene que hacerlo.
He has already eaten. — Ya ha comido.
The trouble is that it's not always a nice 1-1 map of words. In some circumstances, the same word is used for both situations in English, and you need to ask yourself, Has something changed (ya) or has something not changed (todavía)?
Has he done it yet? — Ya lo ha hecho?
change: not done it → done it
He hasn't done it yet. — Todavía no lo ha hecho.
This idea will also help you navigate the situations where ya doesn't translate neatly to one word in English - it can be used just as a marker to indicate that something has changed:
Ya lo sé. — Now I know.
Ya verás como te gusta. — (literally) You will see how you like it. / (figuratively) You'll come to like it.
now you don't like it, in the future you will - change
Hacemos el ejercicio, lo corregimos, y ya. — We'll do the exercise, correct it, and then we'll be done.
In English dialects, there are subtle differences between the meanings of one of these three words. If you go back some seventy years, the phrase "Is he yet reading?" would have been understood differently in Ohio and in New England.
In New England, this phrase would have been understood as a stilted way of saying, "Is he reading yet?" something one would say of a child.
In Ohio, it meant, "Is he still reading?" something one would say of an old man.
The matchup for ya, aún, and todavía is close but not exact. You shouldn't expect it to be exact. With prepositions, the mismatches are even more evident.
Ya + present tense verb = now. Ya voy. I go now. Ya estoy haciendolo. I'm doing it now.
Ya + preterite verb = already. Ya lavé los platos. I washed the dishes already. Ya fui a la tienda. I went to the store already.
Ya + no + present tense verb = no longer or any more. This is when you want to say you use to do something in the past but at present you're not doing it. Ya no estudio español. I don't study Spanish anymore. Ya no toco la guitarra. I no longer play the guitar.
Todavia + present tense verb = still. Todavia estás estudiando español? Are you still studying Spanish? Todavia quiero ir a españa algún día. I still want to go to Spain some day.
Todavia + no + present or past tense verb = yet or not yet. Todavia no lavo los platos. I haven't wash the dishes yet. Todavia no limpié mi habitacion. I haven't cleaned my room yet.