Well, my question is really a simple matter which has been bothering me for quite a while now. Ironically, I've just used the present perfect tense twice while I was writing these sentences, which is basically the tense that bothers me the most. I am at a loss because the present perfect tense seems unecessary to me in most cases, here's hoping that you can rectify my opinion.

I understand the notion of connecting the present with the past, but it's still quite unclear and ambiguous for me. So, here's the deal, a simple example of my problem:

"Which concept in the English language has been the most difficult to grasp?"

"Which concept in the English language was the most difficult to grasp?"

You see the difference in the tenses here, both have occured in the past... Wait, there I go again, present perfect. What does it mean "have occured"? Why shouldn't I just use past simple like "both occured"?

I also understand that when using the past simple tense we can omit the specific time as long as we have it in mind. And that's my deadlock, we use present perfect by definition with unspecific time. I sometimes really feel that present perfect is somewhat redundant in respect to the past simple tense.

Something tells me that you, good people, are going to say that both are correct. Why? How can I determine which one is preferable? I have noticed that I can find a repercussion or a past-present connection with anything I say in the past tense, which would validate the present perfect in every sentence which is retelling something in the past.

Can you grasp what is bothering me? I am sorry if I sound cryptic, I am from Croatia and this is quite mind-boggling for me since I don't have anything similar in my language. Please help me understand when to use present perfect, so far, I've just relied on "feeling it". Recently, I've found out that I don't really comprehend what's it all about.

I really get this shearing feeling in my head when I don't understand something not matter how much I try. It literally produces wrath within me which can only be relinquished by gaining an understand of the topic at hand.

So, I humbly ask all of you English experts to assist a fellow in need! I hope you understand my problem, I understand the notions of "how many times", "how long", "started in the past, continues now and may go onward" (which has been bothering me for quite a while now).

And please, I understand how people define the present perfect on many websites and the basic usage principles which are followed by very explicitly formatted language which is used only in such cases. My main problem is a thing like this:
http://www.eveonline.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=916

When there are no times specified (contrast to formal examples), most of it is past simple and yet some things are present perfect simple... How do they make the difference? Everything can be rationalized to present perfect since everything has a repercussion in the present. Can anyone help me out a bit?

I'd really appreciate it!
Anonymous"Which concept in the English language has been the most difficult to grasp?"
"Which concept in the English language was the most difficult to grasp?"
The only explanation I can offer - and it may not even necessarily help - is that in the first sentence the speaker conceptualizes the whole situation of learning English as still going on, whereas in the second sentence the speaker conceptualizes the situation as having ended some time ago.

Present perfect tells us what state things are in now because of what happened.

Past actually tells the story of what happened.

Which ... has been the most difficult? implies "so far", "until now".

Which ... was the most difficult? implies "then", "during that time period in the past".

Where X is the present moment,

<...............................................X).......... has been most difficult,

selecting from any time in the past until now.

....[.........].................................X........... was most difficult,

selecting only from between [ and ].

CJ
Hi Anon;

You have asked what the difference is between:

1) Which concept in the English language has been the most difficult to grasp?
2) Which concept in the English language was the most difficult to grasp?

I would use the first if I were a teacher and talking to my students at the end of a school semester. It would cause them to think over the past semester, and give me ideas on how to improve my instruction for the next semester. (For example, giving more examples on the present perfect tense.) The students are still learning.

I would use the second question if I were a teacher and asking one of my students that I met several years after he graduated. He would think about all the learning, from primary school to my classes. He is not learning actively at the time we meet - his schooling is over.

There are many occasions when there is little difference between present perfect and simple past. It is a nuance that the simple past infers that the activity is older and more finished or completed.

There are many occasions when there is a big difference, for example:

How have you been? (A very common greeting for someone you haven't seen recently.)

How were you? (Not used.)
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Lovely, thank you for your answers! I think that has helped a bit!

Did I use it right in the previous sentence? "has helped", meaning to imply that your responses in the past have governed the increase in my understanding in the present? Funny, I can't explain my present perfect intentions without using present perfect.

Just one more little question:

"We have found your prize."

"We found your prize."

Does present perfect always has to have a handle in the present, or can it be simply used to state something that happened, but not important when? Like an accomplishment? And if so, does that accomplishment using present perfect imply an effect in the present?

Many thanks, your help is greatly appreciated!
AnonymousDid I use it right in the previous sentence? "has helped", meaning to imply that your responses in the past have governed the increase in my understanding in the present?
Yes, exactly.

In this case, there is little difference between these two.

That helped me understand it.

That has helped me understand it.

AnonymousDoes present perfect always have to have a handle in the present?
I can't think of an example when the present perfect is used without any connection or relevance to the speaker's present time.
I have left that job long ago.

Does this sentence also have a handle in the present?
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It is not really natural to me. I would use the simple past.

I left that job a long time ago.
AnonymousI think that has helped a bit!
Did I use it right in the previous sentence?
I urge you to think in terms of "appropriate" and "effective" rather than "correct". In every pair of sentences which are the same except that one is in the present perfect and the other in the simple past, both are correct (right) grammatically.

So the question is whether "I think that has helped a bit!" is appropriate. Yes, it is. But "I think that helped a bit!" is also appropriate. No specific time is mentioned. When this is the case, both versions are usually, but not always, appropriate.

Now we've moved from "correct" to "appropriate", and we have to move yet another step because both versions are correct and appropriate (which is often the case). The next step is this: "effectiveness", i.e., having the desired effect. Did the sentence 'effectively' communicate what the speaker intended to communicate? Here, only the speaker can answer. We listeners don't know what was in your mind when you wrote your sentence.

Were you (the speaker) conceptualizing the situation as a state that you are now in? Were you thinking, "Up to this point, what has happened has put me in the state of 'being helped a bit' "? This almost implies that the situation is still going on, that you believe that perhaps you may continue to need help, for example. If so, then what you wrote communicated your thoughts 'effectively'.

If, on the other hand, you (the speaker) were conceptualizing the sentence as a story of what happened (This helped.), then you did not communicate your thoughts 'effectively' when you used the present perfect. If you conceptualized the situation as ended once you read the posts we offered, as if to say,

"OK. I read the posts. They helped me. End of story. (Time passes, and now we're in the present moment, but my being helped is no more than a historical fact.)",

then you should have used the simple past.

______________

Now if your own language does not require you to make a distinction like this, then you may have to do some introspection to make the choice. It won't come naturally to you immediately. Eventually, however, it will become somewhat more automatic for you to take these factors into consideration in making the choice between these tenses.

CJ
Anonymous"We have found your prize."
"We found your prize."
Both are correct. (No specific time is mentioned, so both are likely to be appropriate in most situations we might imagine.) Only the speaker knows whether one or the other is more 'effective'. Silly as it may seem,

"We have found your prize" communicates effectively if we have found your prize.

"We found your prize" communicates effectively if we found your prize.

In other words, all is right with the world provided the speaker says what he means. Emotion: smile

What a native speaker might typically imagine upon hearing those sentences is these:

We have been looking all week for your prize. Success at at last! We have finally found your prize, and we will mail it to you tomorrow.

Do you remember when we moved two years ago? We had to clean out all the closets in preparation for the move. Anyway, I distinctly remember that we came across a lot of your things in one particular closet. In fact, we found your prize - the prize that you had won in the music contest when you were in high school.

Note that as you get farther back in time, the present perfect becomes less and less likely as the best choice. Things that happened long ago are more likely to be considered "finished business", and the simple past is therefore more likely to be applied. This does not mean, however, that you can't use the present perfect for situations that imply "long ago", nor that you can't use the simple past for situations that imply "just a second ago".

CJ
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