Present Perfect vs Simple Past

elephant at the zoo

Present perfect and simple past are two patterns which learners often make mistakes with. Compare the following sentences: 

– I went to the zoo. (simple past)
– I’ve been to the zoo. (present perfect)

Do you understand the difference, and can you explain it? Have fun with the patterns below, and try using them in your next class!

Simple Past vs Present Perfect 

Simple Past = finished times or actions
Present Perfect = unfinished times or actions

– I went to Starbucks twice yesterday
– I have gone to Starbucks twice today

– My boyfriend made dinner every day last week
– My boyfriend has made dinner every day this week

– I 
worked at McDonald’s in high school
– I have worked at McDonald’s since high school. (I still work at McDonalds.)

– I 
lived in New York for three years from 2003 to 2006
– I have lived in New York for three years. (I still live in New York.)

This is a good starting point, but let’s go a little deeper. Below are some examples to help you master these patterns.

1. Life Experience 
Often, when no time is mentioned, we mean “in my life, which is an unfinished time. 

– In his life, Abraham Lincoln won many victories. (finished time = not alive.) 
– In my life, I’
ve won many victories. (unfinished time = I’m alive!)

We don’t usually say, “in my life”. 
– She 
has seen this movie many times.
– I’ve travelled to thirteen different countries.

2. For / Since
a. For 
= how much time

– I worked at that company for two years. (I don’t work there now.)
– I have worked at this company for two years. (I work here now.)

b. Since 
= from a time to now
X I 
worked at that company since 2019
O I have worked at this company since 2019

3. Recently / lately = not long ago
– I was very busy recently. (but not now) (simple past)
– I’
ve been very busy recently. (I’m still busy.) (present perfect)

4. Just = very recently, perhaps a moment ago
A: Do you know where Dan is? 
B: I 
just saw him near the elevator. (simple past)
B: I
‘ve just seen him near the elevator. (present perfect)

5. Already = before an expected time
A: Can you do the dishes please? 
B: I 
already did them. (simple past)
B: I
‘ve already done them. (present perfect)

6. Yet = used with negative sentences and questions 
A: 
Did you finish your homework yet
B: No. I 
didn’t finish yet. / Not yet

A: Have you finished your homework yet
B: No. I 
haven’t finished yet. / Not yet

 

Now it’s your turn! Choose the correct answer in the examples below. 
1. I already _____ to the store. 
     a. went     b. been to     c. gone to

2. He _____ to the meeting and come back. 
     a. went    b. has go     c. has been

3. She _____ her homework yet. 
     a. haven’t finished     b. hasn’t finished     c. did 

4. It’s ten o’clock and I still haven’t _____ breakfast. 
     a. eat     b. ate     c. eaten

5. Last night, we _____ the third Indiana Jones movie. 
     a. have watched     b. has been     c. watched

6. Did you call your dad yet? 
    a. No. I haven’t had time.     b. No. I didn’t have time.     c. Both a. and b.

7. I’ve lived in this area _____ about five years. 
     a. since     b. about     c. for

8. Tom just _____ me. He wants to get dinner together tonight.
     a. called     b. call     c. has called 

9. The game _____ cancelled.  
     a. was     b. has just been     c. Both a. and b.

10. I haven’t checked my email _____. 
     a. already     b. yet     c. for today

 

 

1. a. went  2. c. has been  3. b. hasn’t finished  4. c. eaten  5. c. watched  6. c. Both a. and b  7. c. for  8. a. called  9. c. Both a. and b.  10. b. yet

 

Want to see more? Click here to check out my present perfect reference post. 

Like these examples? Did I forget anything? Get in touch and let me know!

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