Present Perfect and Past Simple: Difference

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English learners often confuse the Past Simple and Present Perfect and do not know which of these two tenses to use. Let’s see what are the main differences between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple.

Difference # 1

We use the Present Perfect when we talk about something that is our personal experience. Something that we did, saw, learned, etc.

I have seen the film twice.

I have learned to act quickly.

Several examples of sentences of Present Simple, a small drawn airplane.
When we use Past Simple

Difference # 2

We use the Past Simple when we want to emphasize that the action ended in the past and does not affect us in any way today.

Three years ago, I met the man who changed my life.

We used the Past Simple because we were talking about action from the past. We did not show the connection of this action with the moment of speaking.

I am a good chef, I have learned from the best chef in New York!

We use the Present Perfect to emphasize that the experience is relevant to us now.

The Present Perfect has a connection with the present. Therefore, we use the Present Perfect when we talk about events that have already happened, but the result of these events is associated with the present.

The Past Simple has no such connection with the present. We use the Past Simple when we talk about what happened in the past and ended in the past. Even if this “past” was just a minute ago.

The main thing is that when we use the Past Simple, we understand that the event that happened is a part of the past. We use the Present Perfect to emphasize that the event is part of the present.

I have done two tasks in the morning. (The morning isn’t over yet)

We use the Present Perfect because the morning is not over yet. The event is related to the present.

I did two tasks in the morning. (The morning is over, it’s evening now)

We use the Past Simple because the morning is already over. Therefore, the event that we are describing has nothing to do with the moment of speaking.

I went to London when I was a kid.

We use the Past Simple to tell about an event that happened in the past and has no connection with the present.

I have already been to London. So now I will go to Paris.

We use the Present Perfect to share our experiences. That we have been to London already. This experience has a connection with the present because we are reporting that we are going to Paris instead of London. Therefore, the information that we have already been to London is relevant to the present.

I have had dinner already. Let’s go for a walk?

We use the Present Perfect because, although the action ended in the past, it is associated with the present.

Two weeks ago, we had dinner on Mr. Johnson’s yacht.

We use the Past Simple because we are describing an action that happened in the past. The action ended in the past. Its result has nothing to do with the present.

An example of a sentence using Past Perfect. Picture of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.
When we use Present Perfect

Difference # 3

We use the Present Perfect if the time when the action happened does not matter. The only thing that matters is the result of what happened. We use the Past Simple when it is important to indicate the time when the action occurred.

Two rules that describe the difference between using Present Simple and Past Simple
Difference of the use of Present Perfect and Past Simple

To better understand the difference look at the examples:

I was in this restaurant three years ago.

We use the Past Simple, we talk about what happened 3 years ago.

I have been to this restaurant before.

We use the Present Perfect because the result is more important than the time when it happened. We even used the word “before“. We can use words like this in the Present Perfect. “Before” does not describe the exact time when this happened.

A rule and suggestions that show the use cases of Past Simple, an image of a small, cozy restaurant.
Past Simple. Example and rule.

Difference # 4

Has the action that started in the past ended? Or is it still going on? Will the action continue?

We use the Past Simple when we talk about actions that started in the past and ended in the past. We use the Present Perfect when we want to emphasize that an action began in the past, but it is not over yet.

I have studied history for three years now.

We used the Present Perfect because the action we are talking about is not over yet. Thus, this action has a connection with the moment of speaking.

I studied history for three years when I was a student.

We use the Past Simple because the action we are talking about started in the past and ended in the past.

I have lived in London since 1990.

We use the Present Perfect because the action has a connection with the present. The action is not over yet. Maybe the action will continue further.

I lived in London in 1990.

We use the Past Simple because the action ended in the past. The action does not continue now and will not continue after.

An example of the use of Past Simple, an image of old photographs, documents, an inkwell, and an ink pen lying on the table.
Past Simple. Example.

Difference # 5

We use Present Perfect when we talk about something that happened in a period that is not over yet. We use the Past Simple when we talk about an action that happened in a period that has already ended.

I read two articles in the morning. (It’s already lunchtime)

In this example, we are using the Past Simple, because it is no longer morning but lunch. Therefore, the period we are talking about has already ended. Therefore, we are using the Past Simple.

I have read two articles in the morning. (The morning is still going on)

In this example, we are using Present Perfect because the morning is not over yet. Therefore, we report what happened in an unfinished period. Therefore, we are using Present Perfect.

Two sentences and two rules that show the difference between Past Simple and Past Perfect, a small newspaper image.
Difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect.

Let’s take a look at some more examples:

I’ve worked hard this week. (This week is still going on)

We use the Present Perfect because this week is not over yet. This week is still going on.

I worked hard last week.

We are using the Past Simple because we are talking about last week. Last week is already over.

John has lived a long life and he still works!

We are using the Present Perfect because we are talking about an unfinished period. John is still alive and his life is still going on.

Abraham Lincoln had a very interesting life.

We use the Past Simple because Abraham Lincoln died long ago. The time when Lincoln lived is over.

An example of the use of Past Simple and the rule that explains this example, a drawing of Abraham Lincoln.
An example of Past Simple.

Difference # 6

We DO NOT use the Present Perfect when we indicate the exact time in the past. Therefore, if someone asks us when something happened, we respond using the Past Simple.

When did you read this book?
I read this book two weeks ago.

In this example, we do not report the FACT or RESULT of what happened, we report the TIME when it happened.

The time is more important than the fact because we are asked about the TIME when the action took place.

rule and example of the usage of Past Simple in answers to a question.
An example of the usage of Past Simple.

Difference # 7

Are we talking about events of the recent past?

We use the Present Perfect when we talk about events of the recent past. We often emphasize that an event happened recently using words such as: recently, lately, not so long ago … We use these words to show a connection with the present.

I have been very tired lately.

We use the Present Perfect to emphasize that this action happened recently. This is an unfinished period. Therefore, we use the Present Perfect.

I was very tired yesterday.

We use the Past Simple to emphasize the time. We focus on WHEN. Therefore, we use the Past Simple.

Difference # 8

We use the Present Perfect when we emphasize the fact that an action takes place the first time, the second time, the third time, etc.

I have come to this city for the first time!

We don’t focus on when the action happened. We just report that this was the first time.

In 1988 I came to this city for the first time.

In this case, we use the Past Simple. We describe when the action occurred. We focus on the time when it happened, and not on the fact that it happened the first time.

Using the Present Perfect, we emphasize how many times an action has occurred:

John has visited me twice already.

She has yelled at me for the third time today!

In these examples, we are describing an unfinished period.

Additional Tips to Understand the Difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple

The Verb To Have

The verb to have is not just an auxiliary verb. The verb to have is an important part of the Present Perfect, this verb shows the essence of this tense.

I have read a book.

In this example, the verb to have indicates that we have the book read. This is the connection between the action “read” and the moment of speaking “I have“.

The words Just, Already, Yet

When we use the Present Perfect we often use words like Just, Already, Yet. Because these words show that an action ended or didn’t end before the moment of speaking.

We use the Past Simple when we say exactly when an action happened. Because the exact time shows that the action happened and ended at some point in the past.

Present Perfect:

I have already watched this movie.

I have just watched this movie.

I have not watched this movie yet.

Past Simple:

I watched this movie in 1998.

I watched this movie three days ago.

An example of Past Simple in a sentence, a rule that explains an example of Past Simple, a picture of a movie camera.
Examples of Past Simple with the exact time.

Remember, the best way to learn the difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple is not learning the rules, but an everyday practice.

You can also read the full article on Present Perfect and Past Simple.

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