Past Simple vs. Present Perfect

When to use Past Simple vs Present Perfect.

With the Past Simple we say when something happened.
Both the action and the time period are finished. For example:

  • “I completed the job an hour ago.”
  • “I went swimming yesterday”.

With the Present Perfect, the action (or the time period) may not have finished yet,
and even if it has finished we don’t always say ‘when’ it finished.

  • The action may not be finished yet.
  • The time period may not be finished yet.
  • The time period may have just finished recently.
  • The time period is not specified at all.

1. Past Simple vs. Present Perfect – Action or Time Period.
The Past Simple is used
when both the action and
the time period have finished:
I saw that film last week.
(Last week has finished.)
The Present Perfect is used
when the action OR time period
has NOT finished:
I have seen that film this week.
(This week has not yet finished.)

 

2. Past Simple vs Present Perfect – Distant Past vs Recent Event.
The Past Simple is used
when giving information about the past:
Martin crashed his car last year.
(The action and the time have passed.)
The Present Perfect is used
to say that something happened recently:
Martin has crashed his car again.
(This has only just happened.)

 

3. Past Simple vs Present Perfect – Specific Time vs Time Not Mentioned.
The Past Simple is used when
the time is mentioned specifically:
I saw Tony last Thursday.
(A definite time in the past.)
The Present Perfect is used
when the time is not specified:
I haven’t seen Tony recently.
(The time/date is not mentioned.)

 

  • The Present Perfect is often used with non-specific words like:
    Just / already / ever / never / up to now / yet / so far / recently.
  • The Past Simple is used with specific points in time:
    Yesterday / last week / in 1996 / a few years ago / in May / on Tuesday.

 

Related Content:

Study Zone – Past Simple vs. Present Perfect.
Agenda Web – Past Simple vs Present Perfect Exercises.
BBC World Service – Past Simple vs Present Perfect.

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