Present Perfect or Past Simple?

How do you choose between the Present Perfect and Past Simple?

Both Present Perfect and Past Simple are used to talk about a completed action. The difference is the following:

Present Perfect denotes recent actions and events which are connected with the present.

Past Simple denotes actions and events in finished time periods (last week, yesterday, at the weekend, etc.).


Present Perfect or Past Simple?

So, how do you choose between the Present Perfect and Past Simple?

Present Perfect

The Present Perfect is used to talk about an action that took place in the recent past and is still relevant to the present moment.

  • Jack has lived in Madrid for 10 years so far (and he still lives there).
  • I’ve just finished reading this book, it’s so amazing (this happened recently and now I share my impressions).

The structure is:

have / has + Past Participle

The common usages of Present Perfect are:

  1. to put emphasis on the result: – She has broken a cup.
  2. to express an action that started in the past and continues up to the present: – I have worked for this company for 10 years.
  3. to talk about life experiences: – I’ve never traveled alone.
  4. to say about an action repeated in an unspecified period between the past and now: – I have visited them many times.
  5. when the precise time of action is not important or unknown: – Someone has stolen my bike!

Present Perfect is often used with the words like ‘just‘, ‘already‘, recently‘, lately‘, ‘still‘, ‘this week/month/year‘, today’, etc. to denote a recent activity or event.

In statements showing an event or situation which began in the past and continues now, we often use time expressions with since and for, e.g. for a week, since yesterday, for a long time, since 2010:

  • I love my new office, I’ve worked there for five months already.
  • Today we celebrate our anniversary, we’ve been married since 2007.

Past Simple

Generally speaking, the Past Simple is used to talk about something that happened at a definite time in the past (yesterday, last week, ago, then, when, etc.).

  • He went to the cinema two hours ago.
  • We travelled to Australia last summer.

The structure is:

verb + ‘-ed’ (for regular verbs) or Past Simple form of irregular verbs

The common usages of Past Simple are:

1. to denote actions that are finished: – Pushkin wrote many interesting books.
2. to denote actions actions in finished time periods (there’s no result in present): – I saw him yesterday.
3. to denote repeated or habitual actions in the past: – When I was a child, I visited my grandma every weekend.

Past Simple is used with finished time words: last, ago, yesterday, in 1990, etc.

  • Mary phoned for a taxi and left home at 10 o’clock yesterday (finished period of time).
  • The sun shone all Monday (finished period of time).


The Present Perfect is used when a particular time is not specified. Past Simple is used with specific times in the past.

Past SimplePresent Perfect
have / has + Past Participleverb + ‘-ed’ or Past Simple of irregular verbs
I saw a great movie yesterday.I haven’t seen that movie.
John climbed Mount Everest in 2016.Alison has climbed Mount Everest twice.
Margaret ate too much last night.Tom hasn’t eaten curry before.

Quite often the Past Simple is used immediately after the Present Perfect. In such cases we use the Past Simple to give more details or information:

  • Have you been to Russia?
  • – Yes, I have. I visited Moscow last May.
  • – I’ve lost my watch. I put it on the table and now I can’t find it.
  • – Timothy has passed his exam. He got 80%.

Watch this funny video from oomongzu to understand the difference between Present and Past Simple:

See also:

Present Perfect for Unfinished Past

Present Perfect with ‘Just’ and ‘Yet’

Present Perfect or Past Perfect?

Present Perfect: Statements

Past Simple: Statements

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