Hey, English fans! Simple past and present perfect tenses have always been a significant difficulty for English learners. Mainly because they both refer to events that happened in the past. That is why, on certain occasions, learners make mistakes when deciding which of them to use. However, certain key factors help us make up our minds and incline towards the proper one.
Knowing how and when to use each tense is a vital step towards mastering the English language. If you want to be fluent and native-like, you must understand how each tense works. Think about your own native language. Do you make mistakes when trying to tell an even? Well, the same happens with English. If you want to understand the differences between simple past and present perfect tenses, keep reading and take your English skills to the next level!
To learn the differences between two tenses, we first need to understand what they aim at. So, let’s get to work and know how they work. Thus, we will grasp the differences between simple past and present perfect in a more straightforward way.
As its name says, simple past refers to events that occurred in the past. However, as simple as it may seem (yes, word pun intended), these events need to fulfill certain conditions. This means that we can’t use the simple past for any event back in history. Here are some critical factors for you to identify when to use the simple past tense.
Example: We visited my grandma in Germany last year.
Example: I lived in the USA in 1998.
Example: Yesterday, I got up, brushed my teeth, and went off to the club.
Example: My family always had a barbeque every Sunday.
Now that we know when to use the simple past tense, we need to learn how to use it properly. This may not seem complex, but it can get mixed up with other similar tenses as you acquire more knowledge. Firstly, the affirmative form of the simple past tense doesn’t require any auxiliaries. We just use the verb in the past. So, structurally speaking, it looks like this:
Subject + verb in the Simple Past + Rest of sentence
Of course, we can add variables to this structure, such as time or manner, modifiers, etc. However, following this structure, you can add whatever you want to a sentence in the simple past, feeling confident that it will be written appropriately.
Secondly, we will recur to a complementary word when using the simple past tense in the negative form. How do we do that? Well, we simply take the auxiliary ‘did’ and add a ‘not’. Auxiliaries tell readers or listeners what tense we are using. In other words, they carry tense.
Any sentence that contains did, whatever the form, will inevitably be in the simple past. That’s why, whenever we use the negative form, we don’t use the past form of verbs. Consequently, we use the bare infinitive. Take a look at this example:
She didn’t go to the party last night because she was feeling sick.
See how we apply the auxiliary as a complement to negate the sentence? And how we automatically used the bare infinitive instead of the simple past form of the verb? Well, that’s it. You don’t need much more to understand how the negative form of the simple past works. In fact, if you reread the example above, you will see that you can mix other tenses when using the simple past. However, that may be a little harder to do. So let’s stick to merely the simple past for the time being.
Looking at the example, we can say that the structure for the negative form of the simple past tense goes like this:
Subject + Didn’t (or did not) + Bare infinitive + Rest of sentence
Thirdly, we’ll see how the interrogative form of the simple past tense works. In this case, we will also need the complementary word known as ‘auxiliary’. But, instead of negating it, we’ll just use it in its pure form. We are dealing with a question, so we just need to reorder the words after adding the auxiliary. Take a look at the example below:
Did you remember to lock the door when you left this morning?
Once again, as we apply the auxiliary, the sentence’s main verb (in this case, ‘remember’) takes the bare infinitive form. The word ‘did’ is already expressing that the structure is in the simple past tense. See how to construct a simple past sentence in the interrogative form:
Did + Subject + Bare infinitive + Rest of sentence
As you may have imagined, the simple past tense uses verbs in the simple past form (duh, right?), also known as ‘the second column’. But, as silly as this may sound, it is essential to learn your English verbs. In English, verbs can be regular or irregular. The simplest ones to remember are the former ones, as all you need to do is add -ed at the end. However, bear in mind that some regular verbs also require modifying the root word for pronunciation purposes.
As regards irregular verbs, there are lists you can recur to learn them. In short words, irregular verbs change either wholly or partially when conjugated into the past simple form. Suppose you need help as an English learner to memorize irregular verbs. In that case, you can ask your teacher at Inmersivo, Empointe’s learning platform, for exercises or routines that may aid you. Remember to check our guide on the best ways to learn English and follow our suggestions to master the English language.
Present perfect also refers to past events. And this is where things get mixed up for English learners. Can we use any of these tenses indistinctly? Well, the answer to this question is clearly ‘no, we can’t’ (otherwise, you would have been reading this long article with no purpose at all!). The present perfect tense also has some specific requirements to use it adequately:
Example: I have lived in New York.
Example: I have studied English since I was three years old.
Example: I don’t know the answers to my Maths test. I haven’t studied anything!
Example: You don’t need to do the dishes. I have already done them!
Contrary to the simple past, all three forms of the present perfect require a complimentary word or auxiliary. Thus, we express to our readers or listeners that we use this tense instead of any other. Consequently, English speakers will automatically understand that whatever we say next will have one previously mentioned intention.
Firstly, when we use the present perfect in the affirmative, we will recur to the auxiliary ‘have’. This may take any of the corresponding conjugations depending on the subject. In other words, we will use ‘have’ or ‘has’, according to English grammar rules. On the other hand, the main verb will take the past participle form. Fortunately (mainly for English learners), it will always be that way. Take a look at this example:
I have lived in Italy for 3 years.
As a helpful reference, this example means that I started living in Italy three years ago. Thus, I still am, or it somehow affects my present life living somewhere else. Let’s take a look at what structure looks like in an affirmative present perfect sentence.
Subject + have / has + Past participle + Rest of sentence
Secondly, when we use the negative form of the present perfect, all we need to do is change the auxiliary to its negative form. As opposed to the simple past tense, the main verb stays exactly as in the affirmative. Pretty simple (or perfect), right? Take a look at this example:
How’s your brother doing? I haven’t seen him in years!
By looking at this sentence, we can easily deduce what the structure will be like. Simple (and beautiful, let me tell you) as the English language is, constructions tend to be easy to understand as well. Nevertheless, here’s how to construct a present perfect sentence in the negative form:
Subject + Haven’t / Hasn’t + Past participle + Rest of sentence
Thirdly, when dealing with the interrogative form of the present perfect, we need to reorder the words. Remember that the auxiliary carries both tense and case, so it will vary depending on the subject. Here’s a sentence for you to have an example of this:
Lisa looks so excited about our trip to the coast! Has she ever seen a whale in real life?
This example asks about experiencing something from the day a person was born to the present date. We use ‘ever’ to refer to this period when we ask this type of question. Consequently, the structure for the interrogative form of the present perfect tense goes like this:
Have / Has + Subject + Past participle + Rest of sentence
The present perfect tense uses the past participle form of the main verb in all three forms. Knowing which verbs are regular or irregular becomes crucial to learn as it happens with the simple past or any other English tense.
You can ask your teacher at Inmersivo, Empointe’s learning platform, to give you a list of English verbs. Knowing how to use verbs adequately is an enormous step towards mastering the English language!
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