Simple Past VS Present Perfect

Lisa C. Newcomer Information

In the past two weeks, we learned how to change regular and irregular verbs into the simple past tense. In today’s English Learning Tips for Newcomers, we take a look at the differences between the simple past tense and the present perfect tense. Many English learners confuse these two tenses.

We summarize the differences between the two in this table below:
The Simple PastThe Present Perfect
verb in simple pasthas/have + verb in past participle
Referring to an action or event that took place at a specific timeReferring to an action or event that took place at an unknown time in the past
A point of time in the pastA period or duration of time up to now
with no result or effect in the presentemphasizes the present effect of a past event
Used with “finished” time words & phrases such as: yesterday, last week, two months ago, last year, in 1995, etc.Used with “unfinished” time words & phrases such as: today, this week, this year, in the last six months, etc.
Pay special attention that the present perfect is often used with these words:

1. “for” and “since” indicate the duration of an action or event. When you see phrases lead by “for” and “since”, use present perfect.

For example:

She’s been in Calgary for fifteen years.

She’s been in Calgary since 2005

2. “Never” and “ever” require the present perfect.

For example:

I have never eaten durian.

Have you ever been married?

The present perfect can be challenging! It may be helpful to ask yourself:
  • Did the action happen in a clearly completed timeframe in the past? (simple past)
  • Is the timeframe unclear, or started in the past and continues to the present? (present perfect).
Quiz time!
  1. _____ Jack this morning?              A) Have you seen             B) Did you see
  2. We _____ a good time yesterday at the park.      A) have had        B) had
  3. Sam _____ ten webinars since he moved to Calgary.   A) has attended B) attended
  4. My sister _____ a vegetarian for ten years now. A) was   B) has been
  5. I _____ this book back when I was in high school. A) have read    B) read
Scroll down to the end of this article to check out the answers!

Before you go, also check out our previously published English Learning tips articles!

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Answers to the quiz questions:

  1. A
  2. B
  3. A
  4. B
  5. B