Past Simple vs Present Perfect

There are similarities and differences between past simple and present perfect, which might cause confusion. To learn more, click here!

What is Their Main Difference?

The very main difference and perhaps the most obvious one is that past simple refers to past events, while, past perfect refers to events that began in the past and continued to the present time.

Uses and Comparison

1. Indefinite Point in Time

When we want to talk about a point of time in the past where we are uncertain about the time of events. In this case, we tend to use phrases such as 'the other day,' 'ages ago,' 'a long time ago' with past simple.

They decided against it a long time ago.

Here, we are talking about an action that was set and done in an unknown time in the past.

They have decided against it a long time ago.

We cannot use present perfect to describe an already finished action.

I met her ages ago.

Here, we are referring to an event way back in the past which we are uncertain about the exact date.

I have met her ages ago.

Here, we cannot use present perfect to describe a finished event.

2. Unfinished Actions

Present perfect tense tends to talk about events and actions that started in the past and are still ongoing at the present moment.

I have worked here for 7 years.

Here, we are referring to an ongoing event that started 7 years ago.

I worked here for 7 years.

Here, rather than showing an ongoing action, we seem to have a finished action.

She has been married for 10 years.

Here, we are referring to an on going event that is still happening.

She was married for 10 years.

Here, it seems like the event has finished and that is why we cannot use past simple in these cases.

3. Definite Point in Time

When we want to talk about something that happened once in the past, we use past simple. In this case, the action is already finished.

I called her yesterday.

With 'yesterday' we know that this action was set and done on the day before, and it has already finished.

I have called her yesterday.

Here, it seems like this action has never finished and is still going on.

She went to the library last week.

With 'last week' here, we know that this action has been finished a long time ago.

She has gone to the library last week.

Here, we seem to have an unfinished event going on and that is why we cannot use present perfect.

4. Talking about Experiences

We tend to talk about our experiences. In order to do that, we use present perfect tense.

I have visited Paris before.

Here, we are talking about an experience.

I visited Paris before.

Here, we are narrating a past event.

She has watched it a couple of times.

Here, we are we are talking about a repeated action that can be looked at as experience.

She watched it a couple of times.

Here we are naming a past event.

5. General Facts

We use past simple tense to talk about something that used to be a general fact but now it no longer true.

I lived in a different city for a couple of years.

Here, the event has been set and done and is no longer true.

I have lived in a different city for a couple of years.

Here, it seems like the event never finished and is still going on.

I played basketball when I was 8.

Here we are referring to an era which has probably finished a long time ago.

I have played basketball when I was 8.

Here, we it seems as if the action has never finished and that is why we cannot use present perfect tense in this case.

6. Reports and Broadcasts

If you listen to reports and broadcasts, you may notice that they always use present perfect tense to introduce a story then they tend to move on to past tense to describe the story.

The two countries have set their differences aside.

Here, we have a headline in which we refer to an action that was done by two parties.

The two countries set their differences aside.

Here, we have a normal statement and not a headline.

The president has made his first appearance after the election.

Here we have the headline in which an event has been set and done.

President made his first appearance after the election.

Here, we a normal statement and not a headline.

7. Simultaneous Actions

There are times when an action interrupts the other. In order to talk about such situations, we use past simple with past continuous. Pay attention that we should use a while-clause or when-clause in the sentence.

We were talking when he arrived.

Here, we are talking about an action done by 'he' that interrupted the first action.

We were talking when he has arrived.

Here, we have two parallel events that seem to have happened at the same time.

While we were watching the movie, she snuck out.

Here, we are referring to an action that has interrupted another action.

While we were watching the movie, she has snuck out.

Here, we have two parallel actions that seem to have happened at the same time.

8. Future Actions

We can use present perfect tense to talk about the future. To do so, we use them with clauses such as 'before,' 'after,' 'until,' etc.

He won't stop until he has killed us all.

Here we have a distressing case in which one action cannot be stopped from happening from happening.

He won't stop until he killed us all.

Here, we cannot interpret a coherent message from this sentence because the times of the events do not agree.

I will keep looking until I have found my bag.

Here we talk about how an action will be done so another will be accomplished in the future.

I will keep looking until I found my bag.

Here, we cannot interpret a coherent message from this sentence because the times of the events do not agree.

Structure

Here, we will take a brief look at the patterns you need to learn to create past simple and present perfect.

1. Past Simple

Firstly, we will look at the past simple when it comes to regular and irregular verbs.

1.1. Regular Verbs

Regular verbs are the kind that follow a certain pattern when they are used in different tenses. To make them in past simple form, simply add –ed to the base form. Have a look:

Play → Played

Stop → Stopped

Call → Called

Study → Studied

1.2. Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs are in a sense irregular and they tend to not take a certain form. The only way to learn these verbs and their many forms is to learn them by heart. Have a look:

Base Forms Past Form
Be Was/Were
Have Had
Go Went

2. Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense follows a certain pattern: subject + have/has + past participle. We use any subject, then we use the present tense of the auxiliary verb 'have' followed by the past participle of the main verb.

I have waited for so long.

He has visited us.

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