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2 Theory past simple and pres perf.doc
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Past and Present Time: Past Simple, Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous Past Simple

We use the past simple:

  1. for past habits or states, whether continuous or repeated

Kitchens were very different a hundred years ago.

He always caught the same train

  1. for actions which happened immediately one after the other in the past

First she paid the driver, then she got out of the taxi.

  1. for actions which happened at a definite time in the past. The time is stated, already known or implied.

Simon Cook painted his first picture in 1980. (When? In 1980. The time is stated)

The following expressions refer an action to a definite time in the past: then, when, How long…?, last week/month…, three days/months… ago.

  1. for actions which began and finished in the past

Mr Clark taught Maths for thirty wears. (=he’s no longer a teacher. He has retired)

  1. for actions which happened in the past and cannot be repeated

Mike won more twenty medals when he was an athlete. (=He is no longer an athlete. He can’t win another medal)

I once spoke to Frank Sinatra (=He is no longer alive. I won’t speak to him again)

  1. for actions which happened within a specific time period which is over.

I read the newspaper this morning (=it is now afternoon or evening now; the time period is over).

Present Perfect

We use the present perfect:

  1. for completed actions or states whose result is obvious in the present (we are thinking about the past and the present at the same time). The following expressions show this connection: never, ever, before, yet, already, just, so far, for, since, lately, recently.

She has washed her hair (=her hair is wet and clean now).

I have broken my leg (= my leg is broken)

I haven’t finished yet (=I’m not ready now)

  1. for actions which happened at an unstated time in the past. The exact time is either unknown or unimportant, and therefore it is not mentioned or implied

Simon has painted a lot of pictures (When? We don’t know. The exact time is not mentioned or implied)

  1. for actions or states which started in the past and continues up to the present (state verbs are normally used here)

I have known him since childhood.

Rachel has had the dog for three years (= She got the dog three years ago and she still has it)

  1. for actions which happened in the past and may be repeated

Ben is an athlete. He has won more then ten medals (= He is still an athlete he may win some more medals).

I have spoken to Celine Dion (= She is alive and I may speak to her again)

  1. for actions which happened within a specific time period which is not over yet

I’ve written two letters this morning ( This time period is not over. It is still morning)


  • We use the present perfect to introduce a topic or announce a piece of news and the past simple or past continuous to give more details about it.

Have you heard the latest news? A group of people broke into the Central Bank and robbed it .

  • We use the past simple to talk about actions which were performed by people who are no longer alive, even if the time is not stated

Charles Dickens wrote “Oliver Twist”

    • The choice between the past simple or present perfect depends on whether the action links the past with the present

She often took the bus (=but she doesn’t anymore)

She has often taken the bus (=and so she might do it again in the present)

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