Past events or experiences
Present perfect: it’s not important when something happened
We use the present perfect to talk about recent events or about people’s experiences when the time when these events happened is not important and we don’t mention it.
- I’ve been to Malaysia. (When is not important. The important thing is that I have this experience now.)
- She’s won three gold medals.
- I’ve broken my arm.
Past simple: we say or ask when something happened
We use past simple to talk about completed actions in the past. We often say or ask when these actions happened.
- We went to Malaysia last year. (NOT
We have been to Malaysia last year.)
- She won three gold medals at the last Olympic Games.
- When did you break your arm?
We often start a conversation about recent events or people’s experiences using the present perfect, but if we continue talking or asking about the details of that event, we use the past simple.
- John: I’ve been to the cinema.
- Patrick: What did you see?
- John: I saw a very good film by…
- Sarah: Oh, you’ve broken your arm!
- Rachel: Yes, I have.
- Sarah: How did it happen?
- Rachel: It happened yesterday while I was riding my bike.
- I do judo and I’ve won some competitions. In fact, I’ve won two medals. I got the first one in Singapore in 2002. The second one was different. It was in Tokyo and I was older.
Duration with how long, for and since
We use the present perfect with how long, for, since to talk about actions or situations that started in the past and still continue or are still true now.
We use the past simple with how long, for, since to talk about actions or situations that started and finished in the past. Compare:
- He‘s lived in New York for ten years. (=He lives in New York now)
- He lived in New York for ten years. (=He does NOT live in New York now)
- How long have you worked in the bank? (=You work in the bank now)
- How long did you work in the bank? (=You do NOT work in the bank now)