Simple Past vs. Present Perfect – American vs. British English – Grammar Lesson

MichaelADGrammar, Vocabulary Leave a Comment

I lost my wallet. I have looked everywhere for it, but I can’t find it. This is not the first time this has happened. I often lose things. I’ve lost keys, wallets, I even lost a new camera on a train! I don’t know why I’m so forgetful.

Today, I want to show you the difference between American English and British English when it comes to using the present perfect tense. Do you know the difference? Have a look at the paragraph one more time then check out this lesson.

Strictly speaking, we use the present perfect tense to talk about an action that happened in the past and has a connection to the present time. As you know, present perfect tense is formed by using have + the PP Verb (past participle):

  • I’ve lost my wallet. I still do not know where my wallet is.
  • I’ve missed the bus, so I’m going to be late for the meeting.

In British English, only the present perfect tense is used in situations where an action that occurred in the recent past that has some effect on the present. In American English, however, it is more common to use the simple past in these cases. I believe this is because the focus of the sentence is on the action itself, not on the relationship between the action and the present time. Thus, these two sentences are acceptable in American English:

  • I lost my wallet.
  • I missed the bus, so I’m going to be late for the meeting.

In addition, we can use already, just and yet with the simple past or present perfect in American English. In British English, only present perfect tense can be use with already, just and yet:

  • I just finished work (or) I’ve just finished work.
  • I already ate, so I’m not hungry (or) I’ve already eaten, so I’m not hungry.
  • I didn’t see that movie yet, so don’t tell me the ending (or) I haven’t seen that movie yet

The biggest difference between American and British English is in the vocabulary, but this is one of the grammatical differences between the two.
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