2. The Past Simple and Present Perfect Simple



Past Simple v Present Perfect Simple



Let's recap from Chapter 1!.....What do VERBS describe?

Verbs can describe Actions, States, Experiences, Emotions etc!

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And... What do TENSES ‘primarily’ describe? Or relate to?
(This is not the whole truth but for the moment it is more than adequate.)

Well they don't describe actions! We just said Verbs describe Actions! The TENSES 'primarily' describe TIME!!!!

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What does the PAST SIMPLE describe?

Finished Actions? NO!!!!
We just said that VERBS describe ACTIONS!
And TENSES describe TIME ('for now')
So... think about it in terms of TIME.

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So... What does the PAST SIMPLE describe?

Yes. It describes FINISHED TIME!
Or in other words the PAST.

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And so... What does it NOT describe, the PAST SIMPLE?

It does NOT describe the PRESENT NOR the FUTURE.
It has no direct information about the present or the future.

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What does the PRESENT PERFECT describe, and not describe?

The PRESENT PERFECT describes the PRESENT and the PAST, but NOT the FUTURE.

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If we talk about YESTERDAY what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
I studied English yesterday.

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If we talk about TODAY what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
I have done lots of things today!

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If we talk about THIS YEAR what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
I have been to Ireland twice this year.

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If we talk about AN HOUR AGO what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
I called him an hour ago.

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If we talk about THE INFLUENCE OF SHAKESPEARE what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
Shakespeare has been a big influence on my life.

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If we talk about ANCIENT ROME what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
The Romans made excellent roads!

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If we talk about THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
England has had kings and queens for centuries.

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If we talk about THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
Shakespeare was born and died on 23rd April.

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If we talk about THIS MONTH what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
I haven't been ill this month yet!

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If we talk about YOUR LIFE what TENSE do we use?

It's UNFINISHED TIME (PAST and PRESENT) so unless we refer to the FUTURE we use the PRESENT PERFECT!
I have been there every year since I was born.

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If we talk about 2 SECONDS AGO what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
I gave it to you 2 seconds ago!

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If we talk about YOUR FAVOURITE HOLIDAY what TENSE do we use?

It's FINISHED TIME, so PAST SIMPLE
My favourite holiday was last year, we went to India!

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If we talk about THIS MORNING what TENSE do we use?

Well this depends! If this morning is FINISHED, then PAST SIMPLE. If we are still in the morning, and we are not talking about the future, then the PRESENT PERFECT!

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Imagine the following scenario....
Rebecca plans to study English from 3pm to 5pm today.

For the following questions you can answer using:
"I have studied for 2 hours."
"I studied for 2 hours."
"I am studying for 2 hours."

First Question: What can she say at 4pm?

"I am studying for 2 hours."
Because she is describing the PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE she can use the PRESENT TENSE. Here the CONTINUOUS ASPECT because it is TEMPORARY, ACTIVITY focused. See Chapter 1 for more details.

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2nd Question: What can she say at 5pm?

"I have studied for 2 hours."
Because the time is right up to now, the PRESENT, she is describing the PAST and PRESENT, so the PRESENT TENSE but not the FUTURE, so the PERFECT ASPECT. Hence, the PRESENT PERFECT.

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3rd Question: What can she say at 6pm?

Option A is.....
"I studied for 2 hours."
The PAST SIMPLE because the two hours are finished.

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And what is OPTION B? What else can she say?

"I have studied for 2 hours."

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Why can she also use the PRESENT PERFECT?

Well... this goes back to the idea that TENSES don't describe ACTIONS, they describe TIME.
And so what if Rebecca was describing her afternoon?

This means that she would use the PRESENT PERFECT because the afternoon is not finished and so she would include her studying in that time.

THE QUESTION NOW BECOMES WHY DOES SHE WANT TO DESCRIBE THE WHOLE AFTERNOON and not just those 2 hours?!?

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The fundamental idea, the fundamental purpose of the PRESENT PERFECT is to give information about...

...the PRESENT.

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And to give that information it uses what happened in the...

...PAST.

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So for example, what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have eaten."

Well, perhaps you are saying that you are not hungry!

Why are you not hungry?
Because I have eaten.

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And what tense is "I am not hungry."?

It's the PRESENT TENSE, it is directly giving information about now.

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It is interesting to note that if the PRESENT PERFECT were 'stolen' from the ENGLISH LANGAUGE (ha ha!), to replace a lot of the meaning that we use the PRESENT PERFECT for, we would need to USE the PRESENT tense (not the PAST tense!).

Well.. the PRESENT PERFECT is a PRESENT TENSE of course, with the PERFECT ASPECT!

More examples please!

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have seen that film."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have seen the film) you can talk about it, recommend it etc

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have finished my work."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have finished your work) you can go home, you can relax etc

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have missed my bus."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have missed your bus) you are late.

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have been to America."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have been to America) you can tell me all about America, or that you don't want to go again, or whatever!

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have worked all day."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have worked all day) you are tired.

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have read Catch-22."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have read the book) you can tell me about it.

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So what information COULD the following sentence communicate?

"I have studied for two hours."

Perhaps you are saying that (because you have studied for two hours) you are prepared for the exam, you are proud of yourself, you have done enough for today, you deserve a rest, etc etc!

Note how in all the examples of what information is being given, the information given is in the PRESENT!

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Let's have a look at this in another way...
How much information does the PAST SIMPLE give about the PRESENT?

ZERO. It describes FINISHED TIME and FINISHED TIME doesn't include the PRESENT.

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So what TENSE do we use when we want to tell a story?
When the end of the story should be unknown?

The PAST!

I walked into the room and saw the dragon eating his elephant sandwich, and I said to him...

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Now compare these 2 scenarios:

A friend walks into your office and says...
A "I left my wallet on the bus."
B "I have left my wallet on the bus."

In scenario A, does your friend have their wallet now?

We don't know!!!

If you use the PAST you are giving ZERO INFORMATION about the PRESENT.
We can imagine from his body language or his voice if he has, but not from the language.

"So I left my wallet on the bus and as I was getting off I realised, so just as the bus doors were closing I...."
It's a story, the speaker doesn't want us to know how the story ends, so he uses the PAST. And we have to listen if we want to find out!

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In scenario B, does your friend have their wallet now?

Probably not (see below). He is talking about the PRESENT and wants you to understand something about his PRESENT situation.

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What might his message about the PRESENT be?

Perhaps it is saying he needs to call the bus company. Or he would like you to give him some money. Or to feel sorry for him!

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So just to look at this sentence, "I have left my wallet on the bus.", can you think of a situation where the speaker says it AND has their wallet now??

Well, what if they had once left their wallet on the bus?
What if they are simply describing their whole life and an experience they once had.
And the reason?
Perhaps YOU have left YOUR wallet on the bus, and they just want to empathize with you because they know NOW how it can feel.

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Consider the following pair of sentences:
X - My granddad has been to Greece.
Y - My granddad went to Greece.

Are there any interesting observations you can make about the two speakers and their respective granddads?

Well, all we can probably say with some certainty is that X's granddad is still alive because the speaker is describing his UNFINISHED life.

This does NOT mean that Y's granddad is dead! We just have NO INFORMATION about him regarding the PRESENT.

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One last final scenario:

As well as the dragon, you too eat an elephant sandwich!
You finished the sandwich at 1.59pm.

At 2.00pm, can you say "I have eaten an elephant sandwich."?

Why? Why not?

Yes you can! Perhaps you are saying you are full now!

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At 4.00pm, can you say "I have eaten an elephant sandwich."?

Why? Why not?

Yes you can! Perhaps you are saying you are still full now!

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At 2.00pm the next day, can you say "I have eaten an elephant sandwich."?

Why? Why not?

Yes you can! Perhaps you are saying you have a bad stomach bug!

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And one year later, can you say "I have eaten an elephant sandwich."?

Why? Why not?

Yes you can!
Perhaps you are saying you have the experience of eating an elephant sandwich and can tell us what it tastes like!

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Finally a little test.
What scenarios could you think of for someone saying,
"I have lost my credit card."?

Just like the wallet it could have happened 30 secounds ago and the person is worried now,
or it happened 30 years ago and the person thinks they know what to do in such an event!

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