Here's a Simple Explanation of the Present Perfect in English

Coffee and a pencil what's the difference between the present perfect and the simple past
I’m a little bit confused between the past simple and the present perfect. I don’t understand the differences and how to use them.

The difference between the present perfect and the simple past is a frustrating point for so many English learners. So, if you’re confused about the present perfect too, you’re not alone. The good news is, the difference is actually quite simple.

The Difference Between the Simple Past and The Present Perfect

The main difference between the present perfect and the simple past is the time period. Is it finished or unfinished?

To understand this better, let’s look at these examples:

I have worked at this company for 3 years.”

“I worked at this company for 3 years.”

These two sentences don’t mean the same thing. The tense you choose communicates certain information to me.

Let’s examine the first sentence:

“I have worked at this company for 3 years.”

Using the present perfect in this sentence communicates to me that you’re still working at this company. Meaning, the time period of you working there isn’t finished.

Let’s look at the second sentence:

“I worked at this company for 3 years.”

Because you used the past simple here, I understand that you’re not working at this company anymore. The time period of you working there is finished. 

Let’s look at another example:

“I have been to Italy 3 times.”

Because you’re talking about something you’ve done in your life (think of it this way: the time period of your life is not finished), you need to use the present perfect here. This is why we normally use the present perfect to talk about experiences and accomplishments. For example,

“I’ve traveled a lot.”

“I’ve lived in 8 different countries.”

“George Clooney has acted in a lot of movies.”

But if in your sentence, you include a time period that’s finished, such as, ‘yesterday, last week, last year, in 2009, when I was younger’, then you need to use the past simple. So we can say,

“I went to Italy 3 times last year.”

“I traveled a lot when I was younger.”

Also, if you’re talking about the accomplishments of someone who isn’t living anymore, you need to use the simple past. For example,

“My grandmother lived in 8 different countries.”

“Robin Williams acted in a lot of movies.”


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An exception to this rule is when we’re talking about events that have recently finished. In other words, when we talk about news, or anything new we’ve done, we generally use the present perfect. So we can say,

“A storm has flooded the streets of Florida.”

“We’ve bought a new house!”

Keep in mind that in this case, American English isn’t really strict about using the present perfect. So, sometimes you might hear:

“A storm flooded the streets of Florida.”

“We bought a new house!”

I hope this has helped you! What other grammar points do you find frustrating? Let me know in the comments.

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