Simple Past or Present Perfect Simple – English Tense ComparisonJust here for the exercises? Click here.
Simple past vs. present perfect
The simple past and the present perfect both refer to past actions, but are not interchangeable in English grammar.
The simple past is used with a specific time marker for actions that started and finished in the past.
The present perfect is used without a time marker for actions that began in the past, but still have a connection to the present.
Learn the difference between the simple past and the present perfect in English grammar with Lingolia, then practice using them in the interactive exercises.
—Have you ever been to Norway?
—Yes, I’ve visited Norway several times.
—When did you start going there?
—I went there for the first time in 2014 and it gets better every time. Last time I was there, I rented a car, drove to the north and saw the Northern Lights. It was amazing!
—That’s so cool. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights but I’ve always wanted to.
—Well, I’ve just booked my next trip if you want to join!
Simple past vs. present perfect: key differences
Key difference 1:
- the simple past refers to a specific action and often tells us when it happened
- the present perfect does not tell us when an action happened, only that it did
- I went to Norway in 2014. (simple past)
- when? in 2014
- I’ve visited Norway several times. (present perfect)
- when? not specified
Key difference 2:
- present perfect actions happened in the past, but are connected to the present
- simple past actions started and finished in the past
- Chris can’t come on the trip, he has broken his leg. (present perfect)
- his leg is still broken
- I broke my leg when I was fifteen. (simple past)
- my leg is fine now
When to use the simple past and the present perfect
The table below shows when to use the simple past and when to use the present perfect simple:
|Use the simple past to:||Use the present perfect to:|
express past experiences with a specific time marker (we know when)
express past experiences without a specific time marker (we don’t know when)
ask when or what time something happened in the past
ask whether or not or how often something happened up to now (with ever, yet, how much/many)
continue a dialogue by giving specific details and information
begin a conversation or announce new information
express completed actions far back in the past
express recently completed actions (with just)
refer to actions that occurred in a finished time period
refer to actions that occurred in an unfinished time period
talk about the duration of actions that started and finished in the past
talk about the duration of something that began in the past and is still ongoing at the time of speaking
Signal words: simple past vs. present perfect
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 past signal words
|... ago||I met my husband 16 years ago.|
|in 1990||She started university in 2009.|
|last||We had coffee together last Saturday.|
|the other day||I saw him the other day and he seemed fine.|
|yesterday||I stayed home yesterday and did some housework.|
Present perfect signal words
|already||I’ve already seen that film, let’s watch something else.|
|always||I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights.|
|Have you ever been to Scotland? It’s beautiful.
I’ve never been there.
|for||We’ve been married for five years.|
|how long||How long have you known your best friend?|
|how much/how many||How many books have you read?|
|just||I’ve just heard the news, I can’t believe it.|
|lately/recently||I’ve recently signed up for an English course.|
|since||I’ve lived in Norway since 2019.|
|so far||So far he’s visited every country in Europe.|
|until now (till now)||Until now I’ve only read the first two books in the series.|
|up to now||Up to now things at work have been very quiet.|
|(not) yet||He hasn’t called me yet.|