Saturday, August 27, 2011

Contrasting The Simple Past With The Present Perfect Simple

It gets a bit tricky for English learners when they want to talk about past events. They have to consider whether the time of the event/action is known or not, and whether the action or situation is continuing up to the present or has finished. Based on my teaching experience, English learners often have difficulties in using the Simple Past and the Present Perfect correctly. The students are not accustomed to using different forms of verbs in relation with the time of event. Now let's take a look at the form of verbs in the Simple Past tense and the Present Perfect Tense.
The Simple Past (Verb 2) The Present Perfect Simple (Have/has + V3)
Affirmative / positive
  • I went to the museum last Sunday.
  • He visited us two weeks ago.
Negative
  • I didn't go to the museum last Saturday.
  • He didn't visit us last week.
Interrogative / Question
  • Did you go to the museum last Saturday?
  • Did he visit you last week?
Affirmative / positive
  • I have visited the museum twice this week.
  • He has visited us a few times.
Negative
  • I haven't visited the museum for ages.
  • He hasn't visited us this week.
Interrogative / Question
  • Have you visited the museum?
  • Has he visited you this week?
To decide whether we should use the Simple Past tense or the Present Perfect Simple tense, look at the following guidelines.

1. Do we know when the event or situation happened? Which is important to talk about, the time of the event or the event itself?
The Simple Past The Present Perfect Simple
To talk or ask about an event or situation which occurred at a specified time in the past. The time of event is important to talk about.
Untuk membicarakan atau menanyakan kejadian atau situasi yang terjadi pada waktu lampau tertentu. Waktu kejadian penting untuk dibicarakan.
  • When did you meet him? ~ I met him this morning.
  • Where did you learn French? ~ I learnt French when I was at college.
To talk about events or situations which occurred at an unspecified time in the past. The event or situation is more important to talk about than the time of event.
Untuk kegiatan atau kejadian yang terjadi di masa lampau dan waktu kejadian tidak diketahui secara pasti. Kejadian lebih penting untuk dibicarakan daripada waktu kejadian itu sendiri.
  • Have you met him? ~ Yes, I have.
  • I have finished reading the book.
2. Is the event or situation continuing up to the present time, or has it finished?
The Simple Past The Present Perfect Simple
To indicate an event/situation which occurred in a period of time or at a moment in a period of time now terminated. The time of event is known and may be omitted from the sentence.
Menggambarkan kejadian/situasi yang terjadi pada waktu atau suatu jangka waktu yang sekarang sudah berakhir. Waktu kejadian sudah diketahui dan tidak perlu disebutkan.
  • He lived in Surabaya for six years. (He doesn't live there now)
  • Andi Meriem Matalatta, who died in 2010, released at least twenty-six hit songs.
  • Did she call you yesterday? ~ Yes, she called me three times yesterday.
  • How long did you stay in Jakarta? ~ I stayed there for a week.
To indicate events or situations which began in the past, and have continued up to (or just before) the moment of speaking.
Untuk kegiatan atau kejadian yang dimulai di masa lampau dan berlanjut hingga (tepat sebelum) saat berbicara.
  • He has worked here for two years. (She has worked here since 2009, and is still working here.)
  • Wali Band has released several hit songs so far. (They still exist.)
  • Has she called you? ~ Yes, she has rang me up twice today.
  • How long have you lived here? ~ I've lived here all my life.

3. Does the event or situation still have results in the present or not?
The Simple Past The Present Perfect Simple
To indicate a past event/situation which no longer has results in the present.
Menggambarkan kejadian/situasi lampau yang tidak lagi berdampak pada masa sekarang.
  • The computer broke down. (but it's working again now)
  • The students cleaned their classroom. (but it's probably dirty again now)
  • He broke his right leg in the accident. (but he has recovered)
To indicate a recent event or situation which still has results in the present.
Untuk kegiatan atau situasi yang baru saja terjadi dan masih berdampak pada masa sekarang.
  • The computer has broken down. (We cannot use it now)
  • The students have cleaned their classroom. (It's clean now)
  • He has broken his right leg in the accident. (He is still in the hospital)
4. Just or Just now? British or American English?
The Simple Past The Present Perfect Simple

1. Used with just now, meaning a moment ago, both in British and American English.
  • She left just now. (She left a moment ago)
  • The school bell rang just now. (It rang a moment ago)
2. Used wih just, meaning a moment ago, in American English.
  • She just left. (She left a moment ago)
  • The school bell just rang. (It rang a moment ago)
Used wih just, meaning a moment ago, in British English.
  • She has just left. (She left a moment ago)
  • The school bell has just rang. (It rang a moment ago)
  • It has just stopped raining. (It stopped raining a few minutes ago)
  • Has he just arrived?
5. Delivering news in British or American English?
The Simple Past The Present Perfect Simple
To report news in American English.
  • Did you hear the news? The Police arrested Nazaruddin.
  • The government announced a new tax regulation.
To report news in British English.
  • Have you heard the news? The Police have arrested Nazaruddin.
  • The government has announced a new tax regulation.

Now practice what you've just learned and do this Grammar Quiz: Contrasting The Simple Past With The Present Perfect Simple.

Reference:
  1. Thomson & Martinet. A Practical English Grammar (4th Ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986
  2. Swan, M. Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980

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