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Difference Between Present Perfect Simple and the Past Simple

Updated on January 7, 2014

The Difference Between the Past Simple and the Present Perfect


The Past Simple

We use this tense to talk about an action which happened at a precise point in time and is completely finished.

We use this tense when:

1. It only tells us about the past, e.g. “I lost my credit cards once.”

2. It is time specific, e.g. “I ate in that restaurant yesterday.”

3. It deals with older information, e.g. “She had a baby six months ago.”

4. The time period is finished, e.g. “I read three magazines on Monday.” We can’t return to Monday to read more magazines without the aid of a time machine.

The Present Perfect Simple

This is not time specific; it has a connection with the present and might recur again.

We use this tense when:

  1. Something started in the past and continues to the present, e.g. “I’ve lost my credit cards” (I still can’t find them).
  2. The time is not specific. We don’t know when the action happened, e.g. “I’ve eaten in that restaurant.”
  3. The information is recent, e.g. “She’s just given birth to a baby girl.”
  4. The action is unfinished, e.g. “I’ve read two magazines today.” You will often use this tense with time expressions like: this morning/this evening/today/this week/this month/this year – when the periods are not finished at the time of speaking.

This action is unfinished
This action is unfinished | Source


Sometimes it’s possible to use either the Past Simple or the Present Perfect Simple in some situations.

For example:

“I’ve lost my jacket. Have you seen it?”

“I lost my jacket. Did you see it?”

But, whenever you see these words: When? What time? Yesterday, Last month, 2005... etc. You must use the Past Simple because these words specify time and when a sentence is time specific, you have to use the Past Simple.

Can you tell the difference between the past simple and the present perfect? Let's find out.

Underline the time expressions in the following sentences and then use either the present perfect simple or the past simple:

  1. I ________________ (drink) a beer yesterday.
  2. They _____________________ (not eaten) a thing.
  3. When ________ you __________ (go) to the beach?
  4. She ______________ (see) him in 1999.
  5. What time __________ they ___________ (leave) this morning?
  6. We __________________ (swim) there many times.
  7. They _______________ (arrive) 15 minutes ago.
  8. He is very tired. He ____________ (not sleep) much.
  9. I _____________ (visit) the mountains last summer.
  10. ________ you ________ (see) that new movie?

Are these sentences right or wrong? Correct the ones that are wrong.

(Answers at the bottom)

  1. I haven’t read a newspaper last week.
  2. Chang lives in Beijing. He has lived there all his life.
  3. I don’t know her parents. I have never met them.
  4. Have you seen Marta on Saturday?
  5. I didn't never ski in my life.

Present Perfect Simple or the Past Simple


Usually a conversation starts out with the Present Perfect, but changes into the Past Simple because people want details about when something happened, e.g.:

A – Mary has been sad recently. Her mother has died.

B – Oh that’s terrible! When did that happen?

A –It happened last week.


Here is a questionnaire for pairs. If the students answer ‘No’ they get 0 points. If they answer ‘Yes’ they get 1 point. If they elaborate they get 2 points. Encourage the students to ask further questions and to gain more information from their partners.

  1. Have you ever eaten anything strange?
  2. Have you ever been to hospital?
  3. Have you ever stolen anything?
  4. Have you ever been somewhere scary?
  5. Have you ever met someone famous?
  6. Have you ever cooked a meal for more than six people?
  7. Have you ever been to a big sports event?
  8. Have you ever cheated in an exam?
  9. Have you ever helped a charity?
  10. Have you ever been embarrassed?
  11. Have you ever lived somewhere else?
  12. Have you ever run more than 5km?
  13. Have you ever seen a ghost?
  14. Have you ever travelled to another country?
  15. Have you ever met someone you didn’t like?

Other activities:

Look for lyrics of U2’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” or Madonna’s “True Blue” and create a gap fill exercise for your class.

Get students to write three verbs on a piece of paper and collect them. Then deal them out to different students. They have to make Present Perfect questions and ask their partner to answer them.

Other Helpful Articles

Teaching the Present Perfect Simple to ESL/EFL Students

This hub shows how to form the Present Perfect Simple, it has exercises with answers and a fun game at the end.

Fun Quiz for ESL Students

Try this fun and interesting quiz.

Teaching English – 3 Great Vocabulary Activities

Here are 3 great vocabulary activities. They are suitable for different levels and they are very handy fillers, motivational exercises or just for a bit of fun.


Underline the time expressions

You should have chosen: when, yesterday, 1999, what time, 15 minutes ago and last summer.

  1. I drank a beer yesterday.
  2. They haven’t eaten a thing.
  3. When did you go to the beach?
  4. She saw him in 1999.
  5. What time did they leave this morning?
  6. We have swum there many times.
  7. They arrived 15 minutes ago.
  8. He is very tired. He hasn’t slept much.
  9. I visited the mountains last summer.
  10. Have you seen that new movie?


  1. Wrong – I didn’t read a newspaper last week.
  2. Right.
  3. Right.
  4. Wrong – Did you see Marta on Saturday?
  5. Wrong – I have never skied in my life.

© 2013 Muttface


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    • profile image

      pen promulgates 

      2 years ago

      Very helpful.

    • profile image

      Ana Paula 

      4 years ago

      Hello! I love your article. Your explanation are excellent.


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