Hi,

I get confused about whether to use past or present perfect in everyday situations. Here are some examples. I am not sure which ones are more appropriate.

1. I left him a voice message OR I have left him a voice message.

2. Did you talk to him OR have talked to him?

3. I just spoke with one of your colleagues OR I have just spoken with one of your colleagues.

4. John just stopped by to say hello OR John had stopped by to say hello.

5. I had breakfast OR I have had breakfast.



Thanks,

MG.
1 2 3
Hi,

It's quite accepted that after "just" you should use the present perfect tense. However, most of the people

don't actually follow that rule and use past simple instead. It's a matter of writing style.

1. Both are O.K, but if I don't know the complete context, I can't advise you which one is better to use.

2. Did you talk to him or have you talked to him? The same as in the first sentence.

3. Both are O.K. I prefer the present perfect form.

4. It depends on the whole context. However, I believe you meant to say "John has just stopped by to say hello".

The past simple form also works.

5. Both are O.K, but again it depends on the context.

In order to give you more accurate answers, you should provide a complete context.

Regards
My observaton is this. Most people do not necessarily process every word in their brains for analysis. In everyday conversation, a lot of people just want to get the bulk message across without practicing precise tense and grammar, and it's rather common. For myself, I'd try to maintain grammatical consistency, so If I used past tense, I always try to use some form of time marker or time relevent phrase to specify its accuracy.

i.e.

Did you talk to him this morning

Have you talked to him yet?
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Yes, but the analysis you gave doesn't answer his questions, does it?
He said he always gets confused using the appropriate tense (present perfect or
past simple) in particular sentences, and you caused him, I believe, to get even more confused.
Don't forget you're speaking with an English learner.
In my opinion, your answer is too general and might've been a good one for another thread, not this one.

Regards
I believed the poster has enough depth in English to distinguish past and the present. The only piece missing is a perspective from which he is speaking from. Yes I didn't directly solve his problem. What I provided is an observation and perhaps a perspective from the natural English point of view. If I wanted to be specific about something which happened in past time, I should speak in the frame of past aspect by applying time markers when necessary, and shall do the same for present perfect. In other words, learners need to develop a perspective view in their mind how they want to get the points across. I am not sure if all that makes sense to the poster.
dimsumexpress I am not sure if all that makes sense to the poster.
I'm not sure too. I still think he's asked for a simple and accurate answer. Learners do have to develop

a perspective view in their mind, but first they have to know the essential basics of the language.

I assume the poster asked his question, pointing out "I often get confused", because he had had not enough

knowledge to determine which tense is more appropriate to use. If this weren't the situation, then why would he

ask this question?

Regards
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I am afraid the kind of uncertainty will not be eraised by a few questions posted in the forum. Some questions are just impossible to answer by grammar rules. I'd consider this a natural process which means learning through times,listening and reading how natives use the language. It takes time. Sadly though, nowadays many college grads can't even tell the difference and functions of a phrase from a clause. So bad English is practiced and spoken on texting and internet. I've used Discovery and Science Channel as my source of learning for many years and I highly recommend them.

1. I left him a voice message OR I have left him a voice message.

2. Did you talk to him OR have talked to him?

3. I just spoke with one of your colleagues OR I have just spoken with one of your colleagues.

4. John just stopped by to say hello OR John had stopped by to say hello.

5. I had breakfast OR I have had breakfast.
The present perfect is a before-now-tense, so you use it for actions that you view as having happened/taken place before now.

The simple past is a tense that you use for actions that you view as being remote in time.

Thus quite often you choose which tense to use based on your own personal view of the event/action.

Both 'I left him a voice message' and 'I have left him a voice message' are grammatically OK, it's just that in the second case you feel that you leaving him a voice message as an event that has relevance now, while in the first case you're simply reporting what you did some time ago.

The same applies to your other sentences?

Did you talk to him? is a question about whether or not a specific event occurred in the past

Have you talked to him? is a quesiton about whether he now knows what he's supposed to know.

The both have the same referrential meaning.

I just spoke vs I've just spoken - the same deal.

4 John just stopped by to say hello - John stopping by is viewed as a remote even in the past, John has probably left since.

John has stopped by to say hello - it's something you could say on the phone to a friend while John is still at your place, saying his hello.

5 I had breakfast - you're simply reporting the fact

I've had breakfast - you're saying you're not hungry.
MusicgoldI get confused about whether to use past or present perfect in everyday situations. Here are some examples. I am not sure which ones are more appropriate.
We probably get more questions on this than on any other topic in English. I don't think anyone is ever completely satisfied with the answers. Apparently it's as difficult to understand the differences between these two tenses as it is difficult to explain.

The biggest problem is that both tenses are correct in the abstract. It's only the context (the real-world situation) in which they occur that makes a difference in your choice. Your correct sensing of the right situation may be more important when choosing the present perfect than when choosing the past. In any case, lists like the following don't help us native speakers tell you which one is better, because we don't know the situation that led up to your saying these things.

1. I left him a voice message OR I have left him a voice message.

2. Did you talk to him OR Have you talked to him?

3. I just spoke with one of your colleagues OR I have just spoken with one of your colleagues.

4. John just stopped by to say hello OR John had has stopped by to say hello.

5. I had breakfast OR I have had breakfast.

Here's a vague rule you might be able to follow with regard to sentences like those above. If you feel that you are "telling a story" (in some way or another), use the past. The first sentence in each of your choices is in the past, and it "tells a story", i.e., tells someone that a certain event happened. It has nothing to do with how things are at the present moment. It is not a response to current conditions. You're just saying, "That happened". End of story. These are all answers to questions like "What did you do?" or "What happened?" They are all "time-stamped" whether you say when they happened or not. I left him a voice message (at 10 this morning). I talked with a colleague (at 10:30). John stopped by (this afternoon at 2:30). I had breakfast (this morning at 7). None of these statements respond to anything in the situation that you find yourself in at the time you are speaking - except for the fact that someone may have just asked you to tell these stories.

On the other hand, if you are not telling someone the "story" of what happened, but giving a "status report" on how things stand now, you need the present perfect. The only time that the present perfect can apply to is the present. It explains what the situation is now. It often does so in terms of past events, but what it says is that the present is now how it is because of those past events, which is different from telling the story of those past events. I'm afraid that the idea of "status report" may be just as vague as the idea of "telling a story", but at least you can see that it's two different things.

Anyway, let me illustrate how the situation you're in can lead you to choose the present perfect.

1. Your boss asks how things stand with the customer you were supposed to talk to about certain prices. (He's asking for a "status report" even if he doesn't use those words.)

You answer, "I've left him a voice message, but he hasn't replied yet". [You don't tell him a story. You update him on the status of the situation. (Your boss didn't ask you what you did.)]

Your boss asks you to let him know when you get a reply.

2 and 3 follow the same logic as 1.

4. Suppose you don't live alone. You live with a husband, wife, sister, brother, friend, or whatever.

John stops by at a time when both of you are home. You answer the door and ask John in. You turn to the other person and say "John has (just) stopped by to say hello". You are not telling the story of what happened. You are giving a commentary on the present situation, i.e., giving a "status report" of how things stand now. [This is considerably different from the case where John stopped by two months ago, and you're telling this story to someone now: "That day, John stopped by to say hello".]

5. It's fairly early in the morning. Someone says, "Let's go out for breakfast". You don't want to go. You want to inform them that you don't want to go out for breakfast, but you want to give a reason. So you'll need to give them a "status report" on the current situation in your stomach, so to speak! You say, "Sorry. I've already had breakfast". [You see, they don't want to hear a story about what you did this morning. They want to know why you don't want to go out for breakfast now. You explain why you don't want to go by saying how things are now (because of what happened earlier). I know it sounds ridiculous to say that you have had breakfast because you had breakfast, but that's how it works. Unless you had breakfast before, you can't say that you have had breakfast now , i.e., you are now in the state of having had breakfast. This is one of the more confusing things about this topic.]

In the long run, you'll find that if you keep practicing English, eventually you won't have to analyze everything in such detail. You'll just automatically and intuitively sense when you're "telling a story" and when you're "giving a status report".

CJ
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