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This week we’ll be looking at a part of English grammar that many students find confusing. At a certain stage of our English studies, we start learning a variety of verb tenses to talk about actions related to time. We use them for the past, present and future. Today we’ll go over two verb tenses that are easily confused with one another- the Present Perfect and the Past Simple.


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What’s the Present Perfect? It’s a tense we use to talk about time before and up to now. It utilizes the auxiliary verb ‘have’ and the past participle of a verb. We conjugate the verb ‘have’ according to the subject. For example, we can say:

~ I have seen that film.
~ He has never been to Scotland.
~ We have studied this before!


What’s the Past Simple? It’s a tense we use to talk about a specific past time. For example:

~ John saw that film yesterday.
~ John saw that film yesterday.
~ We studied this last month.


The Present Perfect has three uses. They can help us know if we’re using the right tense when we construct a sentence. The three different uses of the Present Perfect are:

– To talk about our experiences (1)
– To talk about the duration of an action up to now (2)
– To talk about the result now of a past action (3)


To help us get an idea of these different uses, let’s take a look at some examples:

~ Sebastian has visited MACBA several times.
~ I have lived in Barcelona for ten years.
~ Carl has just arrived.


In other words, we can say that the above sentences (in order) mean that Sebastian has the experience of visiting MACBA several times, I started living in Barcelona ten years ago (and that has continued up to now), and that Carl arrived in the ‘past’ and the result now is that he’s here.


In order to avoid confusing the two verb tenses, it’s important to remember that if we’re thinking of a specific past time, we must use the Past Simple. That means that whenever we mention something like ‘yesterday,’ ‘last week,’ ‘last lesson,’ ‘four hours ago,’ or any specific time in the past, it’s wrong to use the Present Perfect. We must use the Past Simple instead.


To practice this, try your hand at the practice exercises below. You’ll find the answers at the end. Good luck!


A. Edstrom

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