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Welcome to the Grammar Gameshow! Test your knowledge in this crazy quiz! The presenter is a bit strange, the points don't make sense and the prizes could use some improvement, but at least the grammar is correct!

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Episode 29: Present perfect and past simple

It's that time again! Another episode of your favourite grammar-based quiz show! Who will our two new contestants be? Whoever they are, they'll have to face that trickiest of all grammar differences: The present perfect and past simple tenses! When do you use which and why are they so confusing? Who are these two ladies dressed in white? Why do they make the hair on Leslie's neck stand up? Why does Will feel so uncomfortable? Is it the grammar? Find out all in this episode of the Grammar Gameshow!

Watch the video and then test yourself below with our quiz

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Will
Well, hello! And welcome to today’s Grammar Gameshow! I’m your host, Will! No, seriously, look, I’m running out of these. You come up with one at home. And of course, let’s not forget Leslie, our all-knowing voice in the sky.

Leslie
Hello, everyone!

Will
Tonight we’re going to ask you three questions about…

Leslie
The present perfect simple and past simple tenses.

Will
OK! Now, let’s meet our contestants!

Didactica
Hello. I’m Didactica

Will
And contestant number two?

Didactica
It’s nice to meet you. I’m Pedantia.

Will
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but you two are sisters, aren’t you?

Pedantia
That’s correct.

Didactica
And linguists.

Both
We do everything together.

Will
That was creepy! I guess it’s a team game, then! Let’s get going and don’t forget you can play along at home too. Round one is a ‘which tense’ round. I’m going to show you some past simple sentences and you’re going to decide if they should remain past simple or be changed into the present perfect. Here we go. I cut my finger.

Didactica
How badly?

Will
Does it matter?

Pedantia
Of course! The present perfect is all about the relevance…

Didactica
…or importance of something in the present…

Pedantia
…even if the action is past. If you cut your finger,

Didactica
…but it isn’t important to you – maybe it doesn’t hurt…

Pedantia
…or doesn’t stop you using your hand,

Didactica
then it’s past simple. But…

Pedantia
…if you cut your finger…

Didactica
…and you need to go to hospital,

Pedantia
...well, that’s a relevant or significant present consequence…

Didactica
…of a past action, so then…

Pedantia
…it’s a present perfect.

Will
Well?

Didactica
Which one?

Pedantia
You need to be…

Didactica
…specific.

Will
Oh, I don’t know! You cut your finger at an artery, and a six-foot-high fountain of blood is spurting all over the ceiling!

Pedantia
Oh! A bit of a…

Didactica
…nip then. Probably…

Pedantia
…hospital. So,

Didactica
…present perfect. I’ve…

Pedantia
…cut my finger.

Leslie
Correct!

Will
The Olympic Games started.

Didactica
Is this being mentioned…

Pedantia
…for the first time?

Will
Er, yes.

Didactica
Then it’s news.

Pedantia
So, the Olympic Games…

Didactica
…have started. Present perfect…

Pedantia
…to report…

Didactica
…news. Official, or…

Pedantia
…personal. You could also…

Didactica
…tell people that you’ve passed…

Pedantia
…your driving test if…

Didactica
…you want to give…

Pedantia
…them a lift for the first time…

Didactica
…or just want some attention!

Leslie

Correct!

Will
Last one, I lived in London for many years.

Pedantia
Are you…

Didactica
deceased?

Will
What? No!

Pedantia
Do you still…

Didactica
live in London?

Will
I guess so.

Pedantia
Then, I’ve lived in…

Didactica
London for many years.

Pedantia
Present perfect…

Didactica
…for a continuation or…

Pedantia
…repetition of something…

Didactica
…up to the present.

Leslie
Correct!

Will
You’re giving me the willies. Leslie, comfort me!

Leslie
The difference between the present perfect simple and past simple is not always easy to understand. Much of it relies on context and what the speaker thinks is important or relevant. The bottom line is, the present perfect is used when past actions or states are important or connected to the present in some way. This could be past actions with present consequences, announcing new information, or the continuation of something from the past to the present. Finally, after we have used the present perfect simple, we switch to the past simple to go into specific detail. Don’t forget!

Will
Well done, ladies. Have 11 divided in half. That’s one each! Round two. The present perfect is often associated with a number of adverbs. These adverbs spell out J.E.A.N.Y. I want to know what they are.

Pedantia
Just.

Didactica
Ever.

Pedantia
Already or Always.

Didactica
Never.

Pedantia
Yet.

Didactica
Correct!

Pedantia
Although, the word genie…

Didactica
...is spelt ‘G E N...

Pedantia
…I E’ so it would have been…

Didactica
…better to say…

Pedantia
…spell a homophone…

Didactica
…of genie.

Pedantia
It’s just a way of remembering.

Didactica
Accuracy…

Pedantia
…is important.

Didactica
And you forgot...

Pedantia
…for…

Didactica
…since…

Pedantia
…lately…

Didactica
…recently…

Will
Alright, yeah, we get it! You know, there’s something very eerie about you two. Leslie!

Leslie
Scarily accurate! The present perfect is associated with a number of adverbs, many of which mean ‘at some or any time up to now’. A useful way of remembering some of them is to use the mnemonic JEANY! Just, ever, already, never, yet! You could also say JEANYFSLR, with for, since, lately, and recently. But it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Will
Good work. On to our last round, thank goodness. Look at these sentences and tell me if the use of time in each is correct. Have you been to France?

Didactica
The sentence is…

Pedantia
…correct. In these contexts…

Didactica
…when time is not mentioned, the speaker…

Pedantia
…is usually thinking of a period of…

Didactica
…time up to now.

Leslie
Correct!

Will
I’ve last seen John yesterday.

Pedantia
Yesterday is…

Didactica
…finished time…

Pedantia
We don’t use…

Didactica
…the present perfect …

Pedantia
…with finished time…

Didactica
…except in exceptional circumstances.

Pedantia
I saw John…

Didactica
…yesterday.

Leslie
Correct!

Will
Right. Last one. Have you seen John this morning?

Pedantia
What time is it…

Didactica
…in this context?

Will
Does it matter?

Pedantia
Yes.

Will
OK. It’s 11.30 am.

Didactica
Then the morning…

Pedantia
…is not over. It is…

Didactica
…still this morning…

Pedantia
…so we can use…

Didactica
…the present perfect.

Will
Well, what if it’s 3pm?

Didactica
Then the morning…

Pedantia
…is finished and becomes…

Didactica
…finished time.

Pedantia
So sorry.

Didactica
Past simple.

Leslie
Correct!

Will
Make them stop Leslie.

Leslie
All the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. The present perfect is often used without a time word. In these cases, the speaker is generally thinking of a time period meaning up to the present. We can also use the present perfect with time periods that are not finished. For example, saying ‘I’ve had a nice day today,’ at 8 o’clock at night. If the time word represents a finished time period though, we use the past simple.

Will
Good job, ladies. You certainly know your grammar. Have twelvty points.

Pedantia
That’s not…

Didactica
…a real number.

Will
That is true! But I don’t care! That was creepy. And accuracy is your speciality, so release the indescribable whatchamacallit. Freaky-deaky! I probably did the world a favour there. Saved some money on a prize too! And that brings us to the end of today’s Grammar Gameshow. Thanks for joining us. Say goodbye, Leslie.

Leslie
Sampai jumpa, Leslie!

Will
See you next time.

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Present Perfect vs Past Simple

The present perfect simple is formed using have / has + a past participle verb. The difference between the present perfect simple and past simple is not always easy to understand. Much of it relies on context and what the speaker thinks is important or relevant. The bottom line is, the present perfect is used when past actions or states are important or connected to the present in some way. This could be past actions with present consequences, announcing new information, or the continuation of something from the past to the present. 

Past actions with present consequences:

  • Tim has gone to France, so you won't see him today
  • You've worked in Spain. Can you translate this email for me?

Announcing New information:

  • I've just passed my driving test! Would you like a lift?
  • A British sprinter has become the fastest man in the world. This is BBC News.

Continuation of something from past to present:

  • He's lived in London since 1993.
  • They've worked as accountants for six years.


More detail
After using the present perfect to introduce a context, we often use the past simple to talk about that context in more detail, such as using follow up questions.

A: Has anyone ever been to France?
B: I have.
A: Amazing! When did you go?
B: I went about 8 years ago.
A: Did you have a good time?

A: She's worked here since she was 18.
B: When was that?
A: It was about 10 years ago.

JEANY
The present perfect is associated with a number of adverbs, many of which mean ‘at some or any time up to now’. A useful way of remembering some of them is to use JEANY: Just, ever, already or always, never, yet! That said, there are other adverbs, such as for, since, lately and recently. These are the most common, but not all of them.

He's just finished taking his exams.
Have you ever flown an aeroplane?
I've already eaten, thank you.
He's always been keen on football.
She's never ridden a bicycle?
I haven't arrived yet, but I won't be long.
They've worked here for 32 years.
They've worked here since 1983.
I haven't been to the gym lately.
He hasn't attended school recently.

Time: No time
The present perfect is often used without a time word or where no specific time is mentioned. In these cases, the speaker is generally thinking of a time period meaning up to the present.

I've eaten, thanks. (I ate recently and I am not hungry now)
Has he ever been snowboarding? (In his life up to now)

Time: Unfinished and finished time
The present perfect cannot be used with a time word which represents finished time. If the time is finished, we must use the past simple - except in very exceptional circumstances. If the time period is currently unfinished, we can use the present perfect simple. In some cases, whether the time is finished or not is a matter of personal judgement and either the present perfect or past simple could be used.

I went to the cinema yesterday.
I went to the cinema this morning. (Said in the afternoon)
I've been to the cinema this morning. (Said at 11am)
I've had a nice day so far today. (Said at 5pm)
I've had a nice day today. (Said at 9pm - is the day finished?)
I had a nice day today. (Said at 9pm - is the day finished?)

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