Present Perfect or Past Simple

Present Perfect and Past Simple are two confusing tenses to most of English learners. This lesson will help you to understand how to differentiate the usage of the two tenses. First, we will see the examples:

1. Present Perfect or Past Simple

present-perfect-or-past-simple-1
We‘ve won the Cup! It’s our at last!
we-won-the-cup-last-year
Well, we won the Cup last year.
The Present Perfect tells us about the past and the present. The red team have won the Cup, so it belongs to them now. The Past Simple tells us about the past, a time which is finished. Last year is in the past.

We use the Past Simple

  • We watched Man United last week. (Right)
  • We have watched Man United last week. (Wrong)
  • Long time ago, dinosaurs lived here. (Right)
  • Long time ago, dinosaurs have lived here. (Wrong)

More examples and explanations

PRESENT PERFECT PAST SIMPLE
Emma has packed her case. 
(So her things are in the case now)
Emma packed her case last night
(Her things may be unpacked now)
Mike has repaired the chair.
(So the chair is all right now)
Mike repaired the chair.
(It may be broken again now)
The plane has just landed  The plane landed 10 minutes ago
I have turned the heating on
(It’s on now)
I turned the heating on earlier.
(but it’s off again now)
I‘ve dropped my calculator.
(It’s on the floor now)
I dropped my calculator
(but it seems to be OK)

2. I’ve done it. I did it yesterday.

We often give a piece of news in the Present Perfect. We use the Past Simple to give details or to ask for details about things such as when and where it happened.

Laura: We‘ve bought a new car.
Tom: Oh, have you? What sort?
Laura: A Mecedes. We bought it last week.

I‘ve found my wallet.
Oh, good. Where did you find it?

Your parcel has arrived. The postman brought it at eight o’clock.

They‘ve closed the factory.
Really? When did they do that?

3. Structures with for, since and last

PRESENT PERFECT PAST SIMPLE
We can say that something hasn’t happened for a long time or since a specific time in the past. We can say that it is a long time since something happened or when was the last time it happened.
We haven’t had a party for ages.
We haven’t had a party since Christmas.
It’s ages since we last had a party.
It’s Christmas was the last time we had a party.

4. I’ve been or I was

PRESENT SIMPLE PAST PERFECT
present-perfect-hospital past-simple-cafe
I’ve been in hospital for three weeks.
(I am still in hospital now)
I was in hospital for three weeks. 
(Now I am well and out of hospital)
We use the Present Perfect for a state which has gone on up to the present. (Susan is still in hospital) We use the Past Simple for a state in the past, in a period which is finished. (Susan’s stay in hospital is over)
We’ve lived here for ten years.
(And we still live here)
We lived there for ten years.
(We don’t live there now)

5. Have you ever … ? and Did you ever … ?

PRESENT PERFECT PAST SIMPLE
We use the Present Perfect for actions in a period of time up to the present. We use the Past Simple for actions in the past, a period which is finished.
This young director has made four films so far.
(He has made film means that it’s is possible he will make more films)
The director made many films in his long career.
(He made films means that his career in films is over. He won’t make any more)
Here are some more examples:Have you ever been to America? – Yes, twice
I‘ve played table tennis before.
We‘ve never had any money.
Some more examples:Did Churchill ever go to America? – Yes, I think so.
I played table tennis at college.
We‘ve never had any money in those days.

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