The differences 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 life event; subjects are still living.

My husband used to go fishing on holiday.

Finished action, subject is no longer 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’.