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Session 2

Have you ever been in love? When did you meet your boyfriend or girlfriend? When we talk about our life relationships in English, we use both the present perfect and past simple tenses. What’s the difference between these two verb forms? Work on the activities in this session to find out!

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Activity 3

6 Minute Grammar

Present perfect and past simple

Have you ever eaten insects? Catherine and Neil talk about unusual food and give you 3 rules to help you choose between the present perfect and past simple tenses in this episode of 6 Minute Grammar.

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Catherine
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Catherine.

Neil
And me, Neil. Hello.

Catherine
Today we’re talking about the present perfect and the past simple tenses.

Neil
Yes – we’re going to tell you how to form them, and give you three rules to help you decide which one to use and when.

Catherine
… we’ll also look at using ever and never with the present perfect….

Neil
…and we’ll finish with a quiz.

Catherine
Right then: let’s start with the present perfect. And here’s our first example:

Example
I've looked at the sales figures. They’ve shot up by 20%!

Neil
So, it’s subject, plus have or has, plus a past participle.

Catherine
To make past participles of regular verbs, add -ed to the main verb… so look becomes looked.

Neil
But some verbs, like shoot, are irregular. The past participle of shoot is shot. You just have to learn your irregular verbs.

Catherine
That's right. And we often use short forms in the present perfect, like I’ve, he’s, and they’ve.

Neil
Now, here's an example of the past simple.

Example
I looked at the sales figures this morning. They shot up by 20% last month.

Neil
For the past simple of regular verbs, add -ed to the main verb…

Catherine
So look becomes looked, but don’t forget those irregular verbs. The past simple of go is went.

Neil
Now it’s often difficult to know which tense to use.

Catherine
It can be so we’ve got some rules for you. Listen to the first example again:

Example
I’ve looked at the sales figures. They’ve shot up by 20%.

Catherine
And it’s present perfect here because we’re focusing on what happened, not when. But in the second example:

Example
I looked at the sales figures this morning. They shot up by 20% last month.

Neil
… it’s the past simple because we say when the actions happened. So that’s rule 1: use the present perfect to say what happened, but the past simple for when or where something happened.

Catherine
That's right. Now Neil just a minute because I actually… I haven’t eaten this morning…

Neil
And that’s an example of the present perfect with a time phrase. So sometimes, we can use the present perfect to say when something happened, when a situation started in the past and is still true, or still happening now. Here you go… Here’s a biscuit Catherine…

Catherine
Thank you, Neil.

Neil
… because you haven’t eaten anything this morning…

Catherine
… I haven’t. But, if I said, I didn’t eat anything this morning, with the past simple, it would mean it isn’t morning any more – now, it’s the afternoon or evening…

Neil
Yes, the action started and finished in the past… and you must be starving – go on, have another biscuit!

Catherine
Thank you very much. So that’s rule 2: use the present perfect for events that started in the past and are continuing now…

Neil
…and the past simple for actions that started and finished in the past.

Catherine
Nice biscuits, Neil.

IDENT
6 Minute Grammar from BBC Learning English.

Catherine
And we’re talking about when to use the present perfect and the past simple.

Neil
Now, we often use the present perfect with ever and never for life experiences – things we’ve done at some point in the past. Here’s a question for you, Catherine.

Catherine
Okay…

Neil
Have you ever eaten insects?

Catherine
Funnily enough, Neil,no, I’ve never eaten an insect, and I don't think I ever will. How about you?

Neil
Yes, actually I have eaten insects. I've eaten ants that were given to me by a friend from Colombia.

Catherine
Very good. So, rule 3: use ever with the present perfect to ask about a past experience, and never to talk about an experience you haven’t had.

Neil
… but if you add information about time and place, use the past simple I ate insects last summer in Colombia.

Catherine
… and Neil used present perfect in I have eaten insects because he was focusing on the event itself, not when it happened.

Neil
Actually, I wasn’t focussing on anything. I kept my eyes shut the whole time! They didn't look very nice.

Catherine
But they tasted alright?

Neil
They tasted okay, yes.

Catherine
Good.

Neil
It’s now time for a quiz. Which is correct? Number one: a) I’ve been for a job interview last week or b) I went for a job interview last week.

Catherine
And it’s b) I went for a job interview last week. Use the past simple when you say when something happened.

Neil
Number two: a) I never went for a job interview or b) I have never been for a job interview.

Catherine
And it’s b) I have never been for a job interview. We use the present perfect with never.

Neil
And the last one: a) Who has eaten all my biscuits? or b) Who ate all my biscuits?

Catherine
And that's a trick question because actually both are correct! And by the way, Neil, it wasn’t me! I didn’t eat all your biscuits.

Neil
Yes, I’m sure. And that means we have now come to the end of our programme. Don’t forget our three rules: One. Use the present perfect to say what has happened, but the past simple to say when or where it happened.

Catherine
Two: Use the present perfect for something that started in the past and is continuing now, but the past simple for something that started and finished in the past.

Neil
And three: Use ever with the present perfect to ask about a past experience, and never to talk about an experience you haven’t had.

Catherine
There’s more about this on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.

Both
Bye.

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End of Session 2

That's all for this session. We hope you enjoyed it. Join us in Session 3 where you'll read a story about a man who robbed a bank for love. What would you do for love?

Session Grammar

  • We use the present perfect and the past simple to talk about events and things in our lives.

    We usually use the past simple for completed events or actions. We often include a time reference.

    They met in the summer of '68. They went on their first date a month later. They married in '69.

    The positive form is made with the ending -ed (for regular verbs - irregular verbs have their own forms), the negative is made with did not + verb and the question is made with did + subject + verb.

    We played around at first, then we settled down.
    We didn't think it was a serious relationship.
    Did we expect to get married so soon?

    We can use the present perfect in several ways:

    Recent events in the past

    I've lost my wedding ring!

    Past situations that are still happening now

    She hasn't seen her husband this morning. (It's still this morning.)

    To answer 'How long...' questions (usually with 'for' or 'since')

    How long have you known each other? We've been friends for years.
    How long have you lived together? We've lived together since 2002.