English Grammar Course English Grammar Course Unit 20: Present perfect Tense (I have done) or Simple past Tense (I did)

Why should you study this unit?

There are situations where it is acceptable to use either the present perfect tense (I have done) or the simple past( I did). If you can’t remember where you left your phone, you could say ‘I’ve lost my phone. Have you seen it anywhere?’ or you could also say ‘I lost my phone. Did you see it anywhere?’. But this is not true for all situations. For what happened just yesterday or many years back, you cannot use the present perfect, naturally because it is nowhere close to the present. It is already a thing of the past. An easy way to remember the difference would be to check if the situation has connection with the present.

There are many such example discussed in this unit to help you understand with more clarity.

A. It is often possible to use the present perfect (I have done) or the simple past (I did):

  • I’ve lost my key. Have you seen it anywhere?

or: I lost my key. Did you see it anywhere?

But do not use the present perfect to say when something happened (for example, yesterday, two years ago, when I was a child, etc.). Use a past tense in these sentences:

  • I lost my key yesterday. (not have lost)
  • Did you see the movie on TV last night? (not have you seen)
  • I ate a lot of candy when I was a child. (not have eaten)

Use a past tense to ask when or what time something happened:

  • What time did they arrive? (not have they arrived)
  • When were you born? (not have been born)

B. Do not use the present perfect (I have done) for happenings and actions that are not connected with the present (for example, historical events):

  • The Chinese invented printing. (not have invented)
  • How many symphonies did Beethoven compose? (not has … composed)

C. Now compare these sentences:

Present perfect (I have done)

I’ve smoked 20 cigarettes today.

Today is a period of time that continues up to the present. It is not a finished time. So we use the present perfect.

Tom hasn’t been sick this year.

Have you seen Tina this morning? (It is still morning.)

Have you seen Tina recently?

We‘ve been waiting for an hour. (We are still waiting.)

Pierre has lived in Quebec for six years. (He still lives there.)

I have never played golf (in my life).

The present perfect always has a connection with the present.

See Unit 13 and Unit 19.

C. Now compare these sentences:

Simple past (I did)

I smoked 20 cigarettes yesterday.

Yesterday is a finished time in the past. So we use the simple past.

Tom wasn’t sick last year.

Did you see Tina this morning? (It is now afternoon.)

Did you see Tina last week?

We waited (or were waiting) for an hour. (We are no longer waiting.)

Anthony lived in India for ten years. (He no longer lives there.)

I didn’t play golf when I  was on vacation last summer.

The simple past tells us only about the past.

See Unit 11 Unit 12.

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