Present perfect and past simple tenses

Present perfect and past simple tenses

This post will look at different usages of the present perfect and past simple tenses. I will also explain when it is ok to use either one.

Past Simple

The past simple is used when talking about actions or events that are finished and occurred during a closed time period in the past. The below table indicates a few different uses of the past simple tense.

Usage:Examples:
A completed action that happened in the past.I went to France last year.
A completed action that happened many times in the past.I ran a lot when I lived near the park.
A completed action in the past that has no effect on the present.My car ran out of gas on Monday and I had to walk to a gas station.
Used with a longer action in the past to indicate a shorter action that happened at the same time, or that interrupts the longer action. While I was eating dinner, he called.
For things that were true in the past.When Sarah was in her thirties, she lived in the US.

A lot of times, time words or phrases are used with this tense. Below are some examples.

  • ago
  • a few minutes ago
  • a long time ago
  • last weekend / week / month / year
  • yesterday
  • when

Present perfect

The present perfect is used to talk about things that started in the past and can continue up to the present. Usually, the relevant time period is unfinished, or recently finished. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. The main point is, whatever you are talking about has some connection to the present time. Below are some common situations in which we use the present perfect tense.

Usage:Examples:
An unfinished action that started in the past and continues until now.I‘ve started to read a new crime novel. I am on the second chapter.
A finished action that occurred in someone’s life that has meaning in the present (a life experience). She‘s traveled to Hawaii before.
Used with or without a time word or phrase that refers to an unfinished time period, but not with a time phrase that refers to a finished time period (see past simple).Mark has already been to the store this morning and has cleaned the house, too.
Used to say how much or how many.I‘ve drunk three cups of coffee this morning.
She has written four books.

Below are some time words or phrases are often used with the present perfect tense.

  • today
  • this morning / this afternoon / this evening
  • this week / this month / this year
  • for / since
  • just / already/ yet
  • ever / never / before (I’ve never done that before)

The present perfect cannot be used when you say when something happened and that time is finished.

Examples:

I ate breakfast at 8 a.m. (even if it is still morning, it is past 8 a.m.)

I‘ve been to Crete before. (life experience) I went there last September. (when – finished time)

When is it ok to use either the present perfect or the past simple?

You can use either the present perfect or the past simple when you are talking about an action that happened in the past and no time word or phrase is used that refers to a finished time. Below are some examples.

Examples:

I‘ve just fixed the printer. OR I just fixed the printer.

He‘s gone to the store and should be back soon. OR He went to the store and should be back soon.