In this week’s episode of Everyday Grammar we’re going
to help you understand the difference between the simple past and the present
perfect. English learners often confuse these two verb tenses.
Let’s start with an example. Can you tell the
difference between these two sentences?
Sentence one: I saw the movie.
Sentence two: I have seen the movie.
Sentence one uses the simple past tense. Sentence two
uses the present perfect tense.
“I saw the movie” and “I have seen the movie” both
refer to an action that was finished in the past. But there is one important
difference: “I saw the movie” suggests that you saw the movie at a specific
time in the past. “I have seen the movie” suggests that you saw the movie at an
unknown time in the past.
Use the simple past to talk about a finished action
that happened at a specific time. For example, “I went out with my friends last
night.” The adverb “last night” is not required, but it does help clarify
that the event happened at a specific time.
That’s the easy part. Now let’s talk about the present
perfect. You form the present perfect by using “have” or “has” followed by the
past participle form of the verb. For example, “I have graduated from
college.” The present perfect confuses English learners because it refers to a
past action. It is also called “present perfect” because speakers use it to
stress the importance of a past event in the present. The sentence “I have
graduated from college,” emphasizes the present effect of a past event --
graduation. The exact time of the graduation is not important.
There are four more common situations that require the
First, it can express a repeated action. When an
action happened more than one time in the past, use the present perfect. For
example, “I have seen the movie three times”.
Second, it is common to use the present perfect with
the words “for” and “since.” “For” and “since” are adverbs that tell about the duration
of an activity. They answer the question “how long?” For example, “I have
studied English for a long time”.
Third, the negative adverb “never” requires the
present perfect. You can say, “I have never been to France.” You would not say,
“I did never go to France.”
Finally, when asking a question in the present
perfect, use “ever,” as in, “Have you ever won the lottery?” Listen for the
present perfect question in this song by the American rock band Creedence
“I wanna know have you ever seen the rain?
I wanna know have you ever seen the rain
Coming down on a sunny day?”
In an informal situation, you can take out the word
“have” in a present perfect question. Listen to actor Jack Nicholson playing
the Joker in the 1989 movie Batman. Before the Joker takes his victims,
he asks them an unusual question.
“Tell me something, my friend. You ever danced with
the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Here’s a tip: pay close attention to adverbs. Adverbs
give hints, or clues, about which verb tense you should use. Take a look at the
reference list below.
A good way to practice the present perfect is to ask
an English-speaking friend if he or she has ever done something. “Have you ever
flown in an airplane?” or “Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon?” You could even
ask something more profound like, “Have you ever seen the rain coming
down on a sunny day?”
"I wanna know have you ever seen the rain
Coming down on a sunny day?”
Have/has + past participle verb
Ex. I have proven her theory.
Ex. She has gotten promoted.
Common adverbs in the simple past: last night, last year, yesterday, today, ago, first,
then, later, when
Ex. Yesterday morning, I went to the store.
Ex. When I lived in Boston, I worked at a deli.
Common adverbs in the present perfect: before, after, already, yet, for, since, recently,
Ex. I have already eaten.
Ex. I have already visited Angola three times.
Tip 1: Be careful of irregular verbs in the present perfect. With irregular
verbs, the simple past and the past participle form are usually different.
I have already did it.
CORRECT: I have already done it.
Tip 2: Make sure to use “has” for the third person in the present perfect.
She have not read the book yet.
CORRECT: She has not read the book yet.
Click here for a list of common irregular verbs.