Explanations » B1 Grammar Explanations » Past simple or present perfect?
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Present perfect – Form

Present perfect – form

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Short forms

  • has= ‘s
  • have= ‘ve
  • have not= haven’t 

Note that short forms are not used in positive short answers.

  • ‘Have you washed the dishes yet?’ ‘Yes, I‘ve.’ blank
  • ‘Have you washed the dishes yet?’ ‘Yes, I have.’  blank

Present perfect – Use

Summary chart

Present perfect – use

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Past events when time is not mentioned

We use the present perfect to talk about past actions or events when time is not mentioned, i.e. we don’t say when these events happened.

  • I‘ve broken my arm.
  • I’ve passed the exam.
  • She’s found a job.

Just already, yet

We often use the present perfect with just, already and yet. We can use just after the verb have to emphasise that these events are very recent.

  • Tony has just called.  

We use already in positive sentences to talk about actions that we have completed sooner than we expected. Already goes after the verb have.

  • I‘ve already finished my homework. 

We use yet in negative sentences and questions to talk about things that we expect to happen soon. Yet goes at the end of the sentence.

  • Have you finished your homework yet?
  • I haven’t finished my homework yet

Recently

We often use the present perfect with recently to talk about past recent actions.

  • They‘ve recently bought a new car.  

Today, this week, this month, this year

We can use the present perfect with time expressions when the time we mention has not finished.

  • I‘ve seen John today. (=Today has not finished.)
  • Has she called you this week?

Past experiences – never, ever, before

We use the present perfect to talk about past experiences when we don’t say or we don’t know when something happened.

  • He has been to the moon. He’s an astronaut.
  • haven’t been to India.

Never, ever, before

We often use the words never, ever, or before to talk about experiences.

  • I‘ve never read this book.
  • Have you ever seen a John Wayne film?
  • haven’t experienced anything like this before.

The best thing I’ve ever done

We can use the present perfect simple with a superlative adjective and ever.

  • This is the best meal I’ve ever had.
  • It’s the most amazing place we’ve ever travelled to.

How many times

We can also use the present perfect to say how many times something has happened until now.

  • I’ve watched this film three times
  • We’ve been to Paris twice

Have gone to or have been to?

We say someone has gone somewhere when this person is still away, and we say someone has been somewhere when this person has already come back from that place.

  • Tom has gone to Ireland. He’ll be there for a couple of weeks. (=He’s in Ireland now.)
  • We have been to Ireland three times. We love it. (=We are not in Ireland now.)

Duration from the past until now – for, since

We can use the present perfect with for, since and how long to ask or talk about situations that started in the past and have not finished.

  • We‘ve been married for 25 years. 
  • I‘ve had this watch since I was a kid. 
  • How long have you been friends?

Compare:

  • We‘ve been married for 20 years. (=We are married now)
  • We were married for 20 years. Then we divorced. (We are not married now)

For + period of time; since + moment in the past

We use for + period of time (two hours, three days, ten years, etc.), and we use since + the moment in the past when something started.

  • I’ve been here for hours
  • She’s been my teacher for three years
  • I’ve been unemployed since May
  • I’ve lived in this town since I was born

Lately, all morning/day/year/etc.

We can also use the present perfect with lately or with all + period of time (all day, all morning, all my life, etc.) to talk about actions that started in the past and continue in the present.

  • She’s been with me all day
  • I’ve been very busy lately

Don’t use ago

We can’t use ago with the present perfect.

  • I’ve had my watch since two years ago. blank
  • I’ve had my watch for two years. blank

Past simple or present perfect?

Side-by-side comparison chart contrasting the use of Present Perfect and Past Simple tenses, with explanations and examples for each, suitable for A2 pre-intermediate English grammar learners.

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When did it happen?

We use the present perfect (NOT past simple) to talk about past experiences and actions when we don’t say or don’t know when they happened.

  • I’ve lost my keys.
  • We‘ve been to a very nice restaurant.

We use the past simple (NOT present perfect) when we mention or ask about when something happened or when the time is known by the speaker and the listener. We often use a past expression (last week, yesterday, when I was a child, etc.)

  • We‘ve arrived yesterday. blank
  • We arrived yesterday. blank
  • When has the accident happened? blank
  • When did the accident happenblank

Giving details in the past simple

We use the present perfect to introduce a past event or experience, but if we continue talking and we give details, then we use the past simple.

A: I‘ve been to the cinema.
B: What did you see?
A: I saw a very good film by…

A: Oh, you‘ve broken your arm.
B: Yes, I have.
A: How did it happen?