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.
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.
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
action just completed (just/already/yet)
specified event in the past
whether/how often until now
narrating a story in the past
connection to the present
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.
Signal Words for Simple Past
|... 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.|