Hey there! This is TOP episode 212. How to Choose the Correct Tense: Past Simple or Present Perfect?

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Welcome back to another episode of Teacher Ola Podcast. In the world of English grammar, there are two tenses that often cause confusion among learners: Present Perfect and Past Simple. It’s a common problem, isn’t it? Why do we need two tenses that seem to describe similar past events? Well, let’s dive into the differences between them.

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How to Choose the Correct Tense: Past Simple or Present Perfect? Are you battling the fear of making the wrong tense choice in English? I totally understand where you’re coming from! It can be intimidating, wondering if you should use the past simple or present perfect, or whether the past continuous is the right fit for your sentence. But guess what? Tenses are tools, not traps. Making a mistake in choosing a tense is just a part of the learning process. And on many many occasions these are not mistakes at all. Choosing the tense is your decision on how you want to present your story and your message. Don’t let the fear of tenses hold you back – experiment, learn, and watch your language skills flourish. You’ve got this! 

So today we’re going to take a closer look at two tenses that often give you some headache. Present Perfect and Past Simple. What is going on? Why on earth would anyone need two tenses to describe things that are so similar? 

Let’s review past simple first. Imagine you’re sharing stories of your past experiences. Picture this tense as a snapshot of the past. It’s like you’re flipping through a photo album, stopping at a specific moment in time. “I went to Paris last summer” – in this sentence, the action is clear, and the timeframe is well-defined. There is this feeling of a distance between you today and that event. Last summer. That is past. We are here today, and that summer trip to Paris is far far away on a timeline. Don’t get me wrong, it might be an event that took place a week ago, so the timeline distance is shorter, but is it really? Imagine that it just as far away as lst summer, why? Because it’s past, there’s no coming back. We cannot travel in time with this tense. We are firmly grounded in today and everything that is done and finished belongs to the past simple. 

Present Perfect: Now, shift your perspective. Instead of a single snapshot, imagine a continuous, evolving film of your life. Present perfect is like zooming out and seeing how your past connects to your present. “I have visited Paris several times” – here, the emphasis is not on when you went to Paris but on the fact that you’ve accumulated experiences over time. It’s not just about the action but its relevance to your present. The word ‘perfect’ in grammar tenses means ‘before’, hence present perfect means before now. That’s not a precise description of the time frame, is it? We Know very little here. We know that someone has been to Paris before now, but we don’t know when exactly and that’s ok because it’s not important. The message is: I’ve been to Paris, I have some experience of travelling there. I have memories. 

Can you feel the difference? Let’s explore the contrast between these tenses through two super short stories. Relax, listen and focus on the contrast between version A and version B in each of the two stories.

Weekend in Paris

Version A. Past Simple: 

Last summer, I went to Paris. I saw the Eiffel Tower, strolled along the Seine, and indulged in croissants at a charming café.

In this sentence, you have a clear timeframe – last summer – and you’re narrating a specific trip to Paris.

Version B. Present Perfect: 

I’ve been to Paris several times, and each visit has left me enchanted. The Eiffel Tower, the Seine, and those delightful café croissants – they’ve become a part of my Parisian adventures.

Here, the focus shifts from a single trip to an accumulation of experiences. You’re not specifying when these visits happened; you’re highlighting their significance in your life.

Childhood Friend

Version A. Past Simple: 

When I was a child, I had a best friend named Sarah. We played in the park every day after school.

Here, the timeframe is clearly in the past – my childhood – and I’m talking about a specific friend and a routine.

Version B. Present Perfect: 

I’ve had many friends throughout my life, but Sarah stands out. We’ve played in the park and those memories still bring a smile to my face.

In this case, you’re not pinpointing your childhood, and you’re emphasizing the lasting impact of your friendship with Sarah.

Let’s talk about choosing the tense. The choice between Present Perfect and Past Simple often depends on how you want to present your story. It’s not just about correctness; it’s about the narrative style.

Consider this: if you’re at a social gathering, sharing travel anecdotes, you might use Present Perfect to convey the richness of your experiences. On the other hand, if you’re writing a history book, you’d opt for Past Simple to provide precise dates and events.

In essence, mastering these tenses means mastering the art of storytelling. You’re not just communicating facts.

When you have to decide between using Present Perfect and Past Simple, remember that it’s not about being right or wrong. Instead, think of it as choosing the right style and viewpoint for your story. 

Time to practice a little. Listen and repeat the sentences out loud. You’ll find exact same sentences in the Worksheet. If you focus, listen and repeat out loud you’ll be able to translate the sentences with ease. 

It can be intimidating.

Tenses are tools, not traps. 

Choosing the tense is your decision.

You’ve got this! 

What is going on?

Last summer, I went to  Paris.

I’ve been to Paris several times.

When I was a child, I had a best friend named Sarah.

I’ve had many friends throughout my life, but Sarah stands out. 

We’ve played in the park.

It’s not about being right or wrong.

So, there you have it! The contrast between Past Simple and Present Perfect plus an explanation of how your tense choice depends mainly on you and how you want to get the message across. 

Now. Check out the Worksheet which is in your inbox. If you aren’t a member of TOPeople download the worksheet from teacherola.com/212.  I’ll be back next week. As always, keep practising and speaking English every day.  Also, join my newsletter! It’s at teacherola.com/newsletter. 

Thank you for listening! I’ll see you next Wednesday! Happy learning. Take care! Stay fearless and say it out loud! Bye!