Simple Past or Present Perfect Simple – English Tense Comparison

Introduction

The simple past and the present perfect are often confused by non-native speakers, but they are not interchangeable in English grammar. The simple past expresses completed past actions and often includes a reference to time. The present perfect is used to talk about actions which began in the past but aren’t yet complete or actions from the recent past when no reference to time is made.

Learn the difference between the simple past and the present perfect in English grammar with Lingolia’s simple tense comparison table, then practice using the simple past and the present perfect in the exercises.

Example

I have been to the theatre only three or four times in my life. I last went to the theatre in 2005. I saw the Shakespeare play Hamlet. I have not been to the theatre since.

Last week my friend phoned and asked me if I wanted to go to the theatre with her. I said yes.

I have bought a new dress and now I’m in the theatre and I’ve just found my seat.

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Usage

The chart below provides an overview of the differences between the English simple past and present perfect, also present perfect simple, tenses.

Simple Past Present Perfect Simple

completed past action with specified time

Example:
I last went to the theatre in 2005.

action just completed (just/already/yet)

Example:
Now I am in the theatre and I have just found my seat.

specified event in the past

Example:
I saw the Shakespeare play Hamlet then.

whether/how often until now

Example:
I have been to the theatre only three or four times in my life.
I have not been to the theatre since.

narrating a story in the past

Example:
Last night, my friend phoned and asked if I wanted to go to the theatre with her.
I said yes.

connection to the present

Example:
I have bought a new dress.

I am wearing it now.

Signal Words

Signal words can help us to recognise which tense to use in a sentence. Below is a list of signal words for the simple past and present perfect simple tenses.

Simple PastPresent Perfect Simple
  • yesterday
  • ... ago
  • in 1990
  • the other day
  • last ...
  • just
  • already
  • up to now
  • until now/till now
  • ever
  • (not) yet
  • so far
  • lately/recently

Conjugation

For information on the conjugation of these two tenses, see: