The present perfect v the past simple. On this page, we will look at the differences between the present perfect (which we looked in Level A2) and the past simple (which we covered in Level A1). Let’s start by looking at two examples – what’s the difference in meaning?
- PAST SIMPLE: I lost my keys.
- PRESENT PERFECT: I have lost my keys.
The 2 sentences have some of the same information – at some time in the past, the speaker lost their keys. But there is a difference, so let’s look at the 4 rules that decide whether you need to the past simple or present perfect.
Rule #1: Is there a present effect?
In the example above, if you say ‘I lost my keys’, there is no connection to the present. You may have found them or you may not, but there’s no present effect. However, if you say ‘I have lost my keys’, there is a present effect – I still can’t find them.
Here are some more examples:
- PAST SIMPLE: I ate my dinner.
- PRESENT PERFECT: I have eaten my dinner (present effect: I’m not hungry).
Rule #2: Is the time finished?
Compare these two examples:
- PAST SIMPLE: I went to the cinema twice last week.
- PRESENT PERFECT: I have been to the cinema twice this week.
When the time is finished (e.g. yesterday, last month, 2 minutes ago), we need to use the past simple. If the time is not finished (e.g. this week, today) then we can use the present perfect.
Rule #3: Is the action/situation finished?
Just like Rule #2 with time, Rule #3 focuses on whether the action/situation has finished.
- PAST SIMPLE: I ran that company for 12 years. (I don’t work there anymore)
- PRESENT PERFECT: I have run this company for 12 years. (and I still work there)
- PAST SIMPLE: I knew David for 20 years. (I don’t work with him now – he could be dead, but we have no connection now)
- PRESENT PERFECT: I have known David for 20 years (and I still know him)
Rule #4: Is there a signal word?
Some signal words tell you about when something happened. These signal words are commonly used with the present perfect:
- not yet
Here are some examples:
- I have just finished my homework.
- He has already paid.
- I have known them for quite a few years.
- She hasn’t seen him since they left school.
- I haven’t finished the work yet.