In this lesson you’ll learn when to use the present perfect tense and when to use the past simple tense in English. Read the grammar explanation below and then try the exercises. There is a classroom presentation version of this lesson in the Materials tab above. This lesson is part of our Intermediate English Course.
Do you want to know when to say “I did” and when to say “I have done”?
Then you need to know when to use the past simple and when to use the present perfect tenses!
It can make your English sound much better, communicate your point more clearly and sometimes even avoid confusion.
Have / has + Past participle
Have / has + been + gerund
We use the past perfect tenses to talk about;
Recent events and news can be described by the present perfect tenses.
Whether the time that we say something happened is finished or not can dictate whether we use the present perfect or the past simple.
Some unfinished times that go with the present perfect;
Some examples of finished times that go with the past simple;
Think of this as a degree of flexibility, not a restriction! We can describe the same events with the past simple or present perfect depending on our point of reference;
|Present perfect version||Past simple version.|
|I have eaten a lot today.||I ate a lot at lunch.|
|I’ve bought a new car.||I bought a new car yesterday.|
|I’ve been working a lot this week||I worked a lot between Monday and Friday.|
|I’ve done it recently.||I did it yesterday.|
Look at the different tenses used here for my mother (still alive) and my grandfather (who is dead).
“My mom is a writer, she has written 5 books.”
“My grandfather was a writer, he wrote 6 books.”
The important difference here is that my mother’s life and writing career are not finished, my grandfather’s are.
Another example of this difference is shown below.
“I have lived in Barcelona for 2 years.”
Indicates that I still live in Barcelona.
“I lived in Fraga for 2 years.”
Indicates that I don’t live in Fraga now.
We can use the present perfect tenses to talk about actions and states in the general (unspecified) past.
To specify exactly when something happened you need to use the past simple;
It is common to ask questions about the general past using the present perfect tenses and then change tense to talk about the details in the past simple tense;
Check that you have understood how to use this grammar correctly with these interactive exercises!