# Simple Past Vs Present Perfect?

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Congratualtions for your explanations. There are clear and the best i've found.

Vos explicatons sont les plus pédagogiques que j'ai pu trouver à ce jour et je tiens tout particulièrement à vous en rendre hommage.

Gérard.

Forum: New: Common English Questions and Answers - Archived Posts
Posted: Oct 6, 6:46 AM [GMT 1]
Post Subject: [url="/English/Post/krcr/Post.htm#49164"]Re: Simple past vs persent perfect[/url]
Post author: [url="/user/czbm/profile.htm"]CalifJim[/url]
There is more than one difference between the simple past and the present perfect. The simplest difference is the grammatical difference that the simple past can be used with expressions which signify a definite, particular time in the past.

I wrote a letter yesterday.
I wrote a letter at 7 o'clock.
I wrote a letter last Monday.
I wrote a letter several weeks ago.

The present perfect cannot be used with such expressions. (After all, it IS a "present" tense!)

I have written a letter yesterday. (wrong!)
I have written a letter at 7 o'clock. (wrong!)
I have written a letter last Monday. (wrong!)
I have written a letter several weeks ago. (wrong!)

Being a "present" tense, the present perfect can be used with "now":

I have now written a letter.

Another difference is the way the two tenses "cut through time". Imagine time as a very, very long loaf of bread extending into infinity from where you are located. As you look into the distance at this long loaf of bread, let's say that you are looking into the past. The loaf ends at your feet and this is the present moment.

When the simple past tense is used to report an event, it "cuts a slice out of time". To do this, somewhere along the bread loaf you make two cuts, fairly close together. The cuts represent the beginning and the end of the event or action. Suppose you wrote a letter. It took, let's say, an hour. Then the thickness of the bread slice represents one hour of writing. If that hour took place this morning, the slice is located quite close to you: "I wrote a letter this morning". If that hour took place yesterday, the slice is located farther from you: "I wrote a letter yesterday." If it took only 15 minutes to write the letter, the bread slice is much thinner, but again the slice may be closer to or farther from the present (e.g., this morning or yesterday).

When the present perfect tense is used to report an event, the "slicing" is different, because you don't know exactly where the slice is located along the loaf. If you say "I have written a letter", you know there were two cuts in the loaf to make the slice, but you don't know where. You only know that if you examine the loaf, you will discover a slice representing the letter writing somewhere along the loaf. Another feature of the present perfect is that you can limit how far back in time - how far back along the loaf - you want to go in your search. This is done with a "since" clause. In the sentence "Since Monday, I have written a letter", we know that the slice representing the letter writing will be found between the distance from us which represents Monday and the present moment (at our feet). But we still don't know exactly where within that more limited part of the loaf we will find the slice.

Another way to look at it is that the simple past "singularizes", "individuates", or "particularizes" an action by focusing on a specific time. Whether the specific time is mentioned or not, the simple past, when used to report an event, always implies "at a certain time". In fact, it is this implication that particularizes the event. Even if the implication is "when it happened", the implication is still there. "Did you see that?" implies "Did you see that when it happened?" Another example: "Did you notice that John got nervous when we mentioned the missing cash?" The noticing we are referring to is the noticing of that specific instance of nervousness that occurred at the time we mentioned the missing cash.

The present perfect, however, does not "singularize", "individuate" or "particularize" an action. With the present perfect, we don't even know exactly when the action happened! What is more important with the present perfect is that the action now has some felt effect on the present. When you say "I have written a letter", in a way you are pointing to that letter and saying, "And here it is. Here is the letter I have written" -- even though the pointing and saying may be only a mental pointing and saying! The important thing is having (hence the auxiliary "have") the letter now.

Another way to look at the present perfect is that it is the "diary tense". It is as if everyone has an imaginary diary where his life experiences are written. With "I have written a letter" we are saying that we will find in your "diary" today, - if we look now - the notation: "Letter - written!" on some page of the "diary", but we don't know or don't care which page that might be.

Becoming adept at the use of the simple past and the present perfect takes lots of practice. Don't be too disappointed if you find it difficult at first.
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Cali has always given lucid explanations and I am very indebted to her help.

I have a question here not so much about sentence level but about discourse level.

First, look at this sentence:

Are the books we ordered/have ordered used by any other university here?

Simple past or present perfect or both with different meanings?

It seems to me that discourse grammar forces the use of "have ordered" because the question is in the present and the following phrase "we have ordered" that describes the books should be in the present too.

I asked an American teacher and he chose the simple past "we ordered."

It also seems to me as if both tenses work here. Any explanation?
For me, when you use the present perfect, it shows that the action is quite recent. If you ordered those books a year ago and they have been on your shelves for 10 months, the use of present perfect is clearly incorrect.

If you just placed the order, or if you ordered them, but they haven't arrived yet, then "have ordered" works as well as simple past.
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... her hishelp.

<<Are the books we ordered/have ordered used by any other university here?
Simple past or present perfect or both with different meanings?
It seems to me that discourse grammar forces the use of "have ordered" because the question is in the present and the following phrase "we have ordered" that describes the books should be in the present too. No, not necessarily; the verb order is in a subordinate clause describing the books. The use of the books by other universities can be a present state of affairs even though the books were ordered years ago.

Compare: The people we met last week are now waiting in the lobby of the hotel. >>

To my ear the present perfect is actually somewhat anomalous here (though not entirely wrong). If "we" ordered the books, we know when we ordered them. The ordering took place at a specific and known time. These factors argue for the use of the simple past. There would be nothing inconsistent in the meaning if we added a time reference, thus: Are the books we ordered last [week / month / year] used by any other university here? There is no question here -- no doubt -- about the fact of the ordering of the books.

But if there were some doubt about whether the books had been ordered, the present perfect, which is indefinite about time, might be more appropriate: Have you ordered the books yet? Yes, and the books we have ordered will be delivered to us by the end of the week. The underlined portions remain indefinite about the time of the ordering because the main point here is to find out (or to confirm, in the answer) that the event has taken place, not when.

CJ
Sorry Cali for using the wrong pronoun.

Thanks Grammar.

So my discourse grammar thing was not quite right and both simple past and past perfect can be used depending on whether we know when or whether it was pretty recent or relevant. It's all about how we percieve the distance and relevance of the verb "ordered."

I have a question:

Do average Americans make a clear distinction between the simple past and present perfect or is it only for professors, teachers, journalists, and the like?

I know that they use simple past with YET and ALREADY...when they should use the present perfect. Am I missing something...Am I only seeing the tip of an iceberg?
Because with words like "should" - realize that how English is used will vary, without one being wrong and one being right. It seems that Americans are more likely to use simple past when either would do, but the present perfect is alive and well.

So, that said, where have you heard simple past used with "yet"? It would sound quite odd to my ears. Especially beacause "yet" is often used in the negative: I haven't seen that movie yet. How can you have possible heard that used in the simple past? I ain't saw that movie yet?

Does simple past with already sound so odd to everyone? I already fed the dog today; don't give him more food now.
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Barb, we use 'yet' quite often with the simple past tense -- in interrogative and negative sentences. Have you forgotten sentences such as "Jeet yet?"
(Did you eat yet?)
Grammar GeekBecause with words like "should" - realize that how English is used will vary, without one being wrong and one being right. It seems that Americans are more likely to use simple past when either would do, but the present perfect is alive and well.

So, that said, where have you heard simple past used with "yet"? It would sound quite odd to my ears. Especially beacause "yet" is often used in the negative: I haven't seen that movie yet. How can you have possible heard that used in the simple past? I ain't saw that movie yet?

Does simple past with already sound so odd to everyone? I already fed the dog today; don't give him more food now.

Hi Barb,

<<where have you heard simple past used with "yet"? It would sound quite odd to my ears.>>> I have to agree with you on this!

But "yet" is often used in positive context as well, and the construction should be present perfect. Consider the following:

"Have you been to his house yet?"

"Have you eaten yet?"

"Has she arrived yet, her speech is up next!"
I tried to respond about five times, agreeing that in negation and in questions, we do use simple past, and that I was thinking of affirmative statements. I kept getting an error message and my original, better post was lost. I'm giving up now and just writing this.
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