The difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple

The Present Perfect Simple tense and the Past Simple tense can seem similar. Here are some ways to tell the difference:

Present Perfect Simple

Past Simple

Used for actions or events where there is a connection to the present or something that is important now.*

Used for events and actions in the past that have no connection to the present. Sometimes we include a ‘finish’ time word such as ‘yesterday’.

  • I have known David for twenty years.

Unfinished action: I still know David.

  • I knew David for twenty years.

Finished action: David moved away (we lost touch), or David is no longer living.

  • I’ve lost my wallet! (Result: I cannot pay for lunch now.)

Finished action with a connection to the present.

  • I thought I lost my wallet yesterday, but it was in my coat pocket!

Finished action with no connection to present.

  • We have been fishing on holiday.

Finished event.

  • My husband used to go fishing on holiday.

Finished action or habit (subject may no longer be living).

  • They have seen the movie twice this week.

Finished action with unfinished time word (this week, this month, today).

  • I saw the movie last week.

Finished time word (last week, last month, yesterday).

*Remember that you can’t use the present perfect with a finished time word such as ‘yesterday’ or ‘last week’.