English Lesson: Past Vs. Present Perfect

Michael Uncategorized 7 Comments

Yesterday I went to my favorite museum, the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art). I’ve been there many times before, but I still love to go there. I haven’t been there since January, and I am glad I went there this week. There was a special exhibition of guitars. I’ve played guitar since I was a kid, and I spent my childhood surrounded by music.  It was great! If you have never been to the MET, I really recommend it.

Today we will look at the simple past tense vs the present perfect tense. Both of these forms of grammar talk about the past, but they are used differently. Do you know how to use them? Take a look at the paragraph above and then check out today’s lesson:

The simple past is used to talk about events and situations in the past. The structure is the past form of the verb. When we use the simple past, we usually to indicate the specific time the events and situations took place:

  • Yesterday I went to my favorite museum. We know when – “yesterday”
  • I went there this week. We know when – “this week”
  • I spent my childhood surrounded by music.  We know when – “my childhood”

Present perfect has two basic uses. The first use is when we talk about our experience; something that happened in a non-specific time in the past. This is different from the simple present:

  • I have been there many times before. We don’t know exactly when – just “many times before”
  • Joe has never been to the MET. “Never” is some time in the past.
  • Tom has seen Pirates of the Caribbean six times.  We don’t know exactly when those six times happened.

Present perfect is also used to when we talk about something that started in the past and continues to the present. When we use present perfect this way, we use for and since:

  • I have played guitar since I was a kid. I started when I was a kid and still play the guitar.
  • Aki has been in New York for nine months. He arrived nine months ago and he is still here.
  • I have worked at Happy English since October. I started in October and I am still here!

This is the basic idea between these two forms of the past in English. Did I explain that clearly? Have you ever studied this before? I hope you found my lesson helpful! Thanks for reading.



Comments 7

  1. Well,that is quite nice thing to do,specially for the persons who sometimes forget to place right word at right place.Its important to understand these small things.Thanks for your contribution.

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  2. Hello.
    When I was a junior high school student, I learned the present perfect has 4 meaning,experience, continuation, result,conclusion.
    I’m often confused which tense I should use. I have been pointed out by a certain twitter user about the tense. I wrote “The meeting finished” and he said ” “The meeting has finished” is correct.” . I couldn’t understand what he wanted to say and I haven’t understood it yet.
    The experience is not so difficult for me, because I can imagine the case. I think I can get a knack, a point about the continuation. I’m glad if you make a lesson about the other present perfect(result,conclusion) someday.

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    Hi Misa. There are much more than 4 different meanings. I will go over all of these this week here @ happyenglish. Let me help you with your meeting example. Both senteces are correct, however:
    We use present perfect to report or announce news or information:
    “The meeting has ended” (This would be said within moments of the end of the meeting)
    The sentence, “The meeting finished” is also correct. Perhaps we would say this several minutes or even an hour after the meeting ended.
    Does that make it a bit clearer?

  4. Thank you for your reply.
    I’m sorry too tenacious for asking you.
    Can I understand like this?
    Present perfect is use to report or announce something. So,Is present tense often used in newspaper,etc? When I want to announce something to others, I use present perfect. When I write in my diary,it’s not an announcement and past tense is OK.
    Tense is difficult to understand for me.Your lesson helps me to understand it.Thank you.

    In case of my meeting example,

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    Hi Misa,
    Well, yes. Keep in mind the following:
    If something just happened, you can used present perfect to announce it if it is news or information like news that just happened. On March 11th, the news media said, “A terrible earthquake has struck Japan.” After I heard that, I said to my friend, “A terrible earthquake struck Japan.” I used simple past, probably because I was not there to wittness the situation. Getting back to your example about the meeting. If you say “The meeting finsihed” you are correct because you are talking about something in the past. If you say “The meeting has finished” you might be in a situation where that information is news to someone. For example. Imagine Joe is in a meeting. and Bob comes to the office to see Joe. You are the receptionist. You ask Bob to wait because Joe is in a meeting. When the meeting is over, you can tell Bob, “The meeting has just finished.” This is better thatn “The meeting finished.” because you are reporting news that just happened to Bob. Now, if Bob came to the office say 30 minutes after the meeting, and he knew there was a meeting, he may ask you, “is Joe still in a meeting?” Your reply should be something like, “No, the meeting finished a little while ago” or something similar, because you are talking about something that happened in the past. Can you see the difference?

  6. Pingback: Happy English – Simple Past vs. Present Perfect – American vs. British English – Grammar Lesson

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