English Lessons

Some More Differences Between Simple Past and Present Perfect

In one of our previous posts, which you can read here, we had explained the rules of the simple present tense and the present perfect tense besides some vital differences between the two. In this lesson, we have listed out some more differences between these tenses that learners ought to keep in mind so that they don’t end up making embarrassing mistakes. To ensure that you comprehend the differences well, we have explained them with the help of several example sentences. So, if you’re ready, let’s begin!

Difference #1

We use the simple past to talk about something that happened at a particular, finished time in the past, but the present perfect tense is used to talk about something that has taken place in a period of time up until the present day. Consider the example sentences given underneath to understand this difference:

  • My father attended many international conferences in 2010.
    but
    My father has attended close to fifty international conferences this year.
  • In 1999, the Delhi police charge-sheeted one hundred and fifty journalists for questioning the ruling party over the passing of a controversial bill in the parliament.
    but
    The Delhi police have charge-sheeted nearly a thousand journalists since we moved to Delhi.
  • Did you meet your school friend while in London last year?
    but
    Have you met any of your school friends after relocating to Lonon?

Difference #2

We use the simple past tense to talk about inventions and discoveries that happened in the distant past; however, the present perfect tense is used to talk about recent inventions and discoveries. It is also important to keep in mind that the time marker can oftentimes be omitted while constructing such sentences. Study the example sentences given right below to understand this difference better:

  • Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama discovered India (in the year 1498).
    but
    Doctors have (recently) discovered that COVID-19 largely spreads by inhaling air contaminated with the virus.
  • Do you know who discovered polonium?
    but
    Do you know why the scientists have refused to talk about their recent invention?
  • The Wright Brothers invented, built, and flew the first successful motor-operated aeroplane.
    but
    Apple has launched a new mobile phone that is affordable yet highly sophisticated.

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Difference #3

We can use either the simple past or the present perfect to talk about repeated actions or events. It is, however, essential to keep in mind that when a repeated action is said in the present perfect tense, it only means that the probability of the action happening again is high. Look at the example sentences directly below to get a better understanding:

  • My best friend has already directed twenty short stories, and he is currently working on the twenty-first one.
    but
    My best friend directed twenty short stories before entering politics.
  • We have told him several times over the past couple of days that he should keep quiet during our lectures.
    but
    We told him several times to keep quiet during our lectures, but he just did not listen. Finally, we made a written complaint to the principal, and he was suspended soon after.
  • They lived in Paris for nine years. (They don’t live there anymore.)
    but
    They have lived in Paris for nine years. (They are probably presently living in Paris.)
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Difference #4

While both the simple past tense and the present perfect tense can be used to talk about states or mental actions, the present perfect tense is used when the speaker wishes to emphasise that the state or mental action has a link with the present. Otherwise, the simple past tense is used. Look at the sentences underneath to understand this better:

  • I have known only you most of my student life. (I am still a student)
    but
    I knew only you when I was a student. (I am not a student anymore)
  • They have had just one house since they came to Mumbai. (They still have that house.)
    but
    They owned not more than one house while they were living in Mumbai. (They don’t live in Mumbai anymore)
  • We have not given a careful thought about their offer yet. (We are still thinking.)
    but
    We gave a careful thought about their offer, and we concluded it was not profitable.

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Difference #5

Some adverbs (like just, already, ever and yet) that connect the past to the present are more often than not used with the present perfect tense. You may, however, find native speakers using these adverbs with the simple past tense too. Consider the sentences given right below:

  • Please don’t call him now. He has just entered the theatre. (It is not wrong to say ‘He just entered the theatre.’ Nonetheless, the first option is considered more appropriate.)
  • Have you ever been to Brazil? (Don’t say ‘Did you go to Brazil?’)
  • I have not spoken to our boss yet. (It is not very correct to say ‘I did not speak with the boss yet.’)
  • We have already seen this movie. (‘We already saw this movie’ is considered correct by a majority of native speakers, but it is not grammatically correct.)
  • They have just finished having dinner. (This sentence can be said in the past tense as well. Our suggestion, nonetheless, is that you use the present perfect tense with the adverb ‘just’.)
  • My father has never consumed alcohol. (Don’t say ‘My father never consumed alcohol.’)

Difference #6

Use the simple past tense and not the present perfect tense with adverbial complements that denote finished periods. Some examples of such adverbial complements are ago, then, last (month, week, year, etc.), yesterday, the day before yesterday, etc. Consider the following example sentences:

  • Thousands of Indians assembled at the Jantar Mantar demanding justice for late actor Sushant Singh Rajput last month.
  • The Prime Minister addressed a large gathering in Shillong yesterday.
  • She says she saw this movie two years ago.
  • He told me then (at that time) that I was not fit for the job.
  • Did he discuss the matter with you last month?
  • Why didn’t you meet me when you were here last year?

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