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PRESENT PERFECT X SIMPLE PAST

 

  

 

 

What's the difference? Present Perfect and Past Simple

 

Present Perfect Simple Past Simple
Unfinished actions that started in the past and continue to the present:
  • I've known Julie for ten years (and I still know her).
Finished actions:
  • I knew Julie for ten years (but then she moved away and we lost touch).
A finished action in someone's life (when the person is still alive: life experience):
  • My brother has been to Mexico three times.
A finished action in someone's life (when the person is dead):
  • My great-grandmother went to Mexico three times.
A finished action with a result in the present:
  • I've lost my keys! (The result is that I can't get into my house now).
A finished action with no result in the present:
  • I lost my keys yesterday. It was terrible! (Now there is no result. I got new keys yesterday).
With an unfinished time word (this week, this month, today):
  • I've seen John this week.
With a finished time word (last week, last month, yesterday):
  • I saw John last week.

 Present Perfect Infographic

We use this tense for unfinished and finished actions.

Unfinished Actions


1: We use this tense when we want to talk about unfinished actions or states or habits that started in the past and continue to the present. Usually we use it to say 'how long' and we need 'since' or 'for'. We often use stative verbs.

 

  • I've known Karen since 1994.
  • She's lived in London for three years.
  • I've worked here for six months.

 

'Since' and 'For'


We use 'since' with a fixed time in the past (2004, April 23rd, last year). The fixed time can be another action, which is in the past simple (since I was at school, since I arrived).

 

  • I've known Sam since 1992.
  • I've liked chocolate since I was a child.
  • She's been here since 2pm.

 

We use 'for' with a period of time (2 hours, three years, six months).

 

  • I've known Julie for ten years.
  • I've been hungry for hours.
  • She's had a cold for a week.

 

Finished Actions


2: Life experience. These are actions or events that happened sometime during a person's life. We don't say when the experience happened, and the person needs to be alive now. We often use the words 'ever' and 'never' here.

 

  • I have been to Tokyo.
  • They have visited Paris three times.
  • We have never seen that film.

 

3: With an unfinished time word (this month, this week, today). The period of time is still continuing.

 

  • I haven't seen her this month.
  • She's drunk three cups of coffee today.
  • I've already moved house twice this year!

 

We CAN'T use the present perfect with a finished time word.

 

  • NOT:I've seen him yesterday.

 

4: A finished action with a result in the present (focus on result). We often use the present perfect to talk about something that happened in the recent past, but that is still true or important now. Sometimes we can use the past simple here, especially in US English.

 

  • I've lost my keys (so I can't get into my house).
  • She's hurt her leg (so she can't play tennis today).
  • They've missed the bus (so they will be late).

 

5: We can also use the present perfect to talk about something that happened recently, even if there isn't a clear result in the present. This is common when we want to introduce news and we often use the words 'just / yet / already / recently'. However, the past simple is also correct in these cases, especially in US English.

 

  • The Queen has given a speech.
  • I've just seen Lucy.
  • The Mayor has announced a new plan for the railways.

 

Been and Gone


In this tense, we use both 'been' and 'gone' as the past participle of 'go', but in slightly different circumstances. We use 'been' (often when we talk about life experience) to mean that the person we're talking about visited the place and came back.

 

  • I've been to Paris (in my life, but now I'm in London, where I live).
  • She has been to school today (but now she's back at home).
  • They have never been to California.

 

We use 'gone' (often when we are talking about an action with a result in the present) to mean that the person went to the place and is at the place now.

 

  • Where's John? He's gone to the shops (he's at the shops now).
  • Julie has gone to Mexico (now she's in Mexico).
  • They've gone to Japan for three weeks (now they're in Japan).

Using the past simple

 

Past Simple Infographic

This is the basic past tense. We use it whenever we want to talk about the past and we don't have any special situation that means we should use the past perfect, present perfect or past continuous.

Finished actions, states or habits in the past


1: We use it with finished actions, states or habits in the past when we have a finished time word (yesterday, last week, at 2 o'clock, in 2003).

  • I went to the cinema yesterday.
  • We spent a lot of time in Japan in 2007.

2: We use it with finished actions, states or habits in the past when we know from general knowledge that the time period has finished. This includes when the person we are talking about is dead.

  • Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa.
  • The Vikings invaded Britain.

3: We use it with finished actions, states or habits in the past that we have introduced with the present perfect or another tense. This is sometimes called 'details of news'.

  • I've hurt my leg. I fell off a ladder when I was painting my bedroom.
  • I've been on holiday. I went to Spain and Portugal.

4: For stories or lists of events, we often use the past simple for the actions in the story and the past continuous for the background.

  • He went to a café. People were chatting and music was playing. He sat down and ordered a coffee.

 

Unreal or imaginary things in the present or future


5: We use the past simple to talk about things that are not real in the present or future. So we use it with the second conditional and after words like 'wish'.

  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a house.
  • I wish I had more time!