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PRESENT PERFECT vs PAST SIMPLE: when to use them

(ex: I have finished  vs  I  finished)

When do we use the Present Perfect and when do we use the Past Simple?


The present perfect tense is used :
  • To talk about an action which started in the past and continues today :

        For and since are used to express duration.
    • I have lived here for 10 years.  I have lived here since 2008.
      (I arrived 10 years ago and I am still here.)
    • I have been waiting for the bus for 15 minutes.  I have been here since 8 am.
      (I arrived 15 minutes ago and I am still waiting.)
  • To refer to past events in an unfinished period of time.
    • I have written two letters today.
      (Two letters are written but today is not finished.)
    • I have corrected the first test but I haven't done the others yet.
      (I'm still working on them.)
  • To talk about recently completed actions with 'just'.
    • "I've just finished reading the book you lent me."
    • "I've just spoken to our supplier."
  • To refer to past events that have happened recently or have just been announced :
    • There has been a plane crash near the coast.
      (We know the event took place but we don't know when.)
  • To talk about a past action with a result in the present:
    • I've broken my arm. I can't drive (= because my arm is broken now.)
  • To talk and ask about experiences or accomplishments up to the time of speaking :
    • "I'm a writer. I've written 9 books."
    • "Have you ever written a biography?" "No, never."


The Past Simple is used:
  • When the period of time is finished.
    • I wrote two letters yesterday. (Yesterday is finished).
    • Tom went for an interview last week. (Last week is finished).
    • The order was delivered this morning. (It is now 2 pm.).

  • When the time is mentioned, either a precise time in the past, or a time expression which clearly situates the event in the past.
    • John lived in the country
      ..... until the age of 6.
      ..... when he was young.
      ..... from 2004 to 2010
      ..... before he moved to London.
      ..... a long time ago.
As a general rule, if you can answer the question "when?", use the Past Simple.

more on the Present Perfect more on the Past Simple

 Try these exercises: 

Present Perf.vs Past Simple exercise

Present Perf./Past Simple - Mistake ex.

     Present Perf. Simple or Continuous?

more exercises

 back to grammar