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Grammar Reference

Present perfect and past simple

Life experiences

When talking about a life experience, we can use the present perfect. We don't say when it happened because we're more interested in the experience, than the time or date.

My wife has seen both Sex and the City movies.

If we want to say when the experience happened in the past, we use the past simple.

She watched the newest Sex and the City movie last week.

We often use the present perfect with the words ever and never.

Have you ever fallen in love? No, sadly I've never been in love.

We can answer these questions with Yes, I have. or No, I haven't.

If we want to say how many times we have done something, we can use the present perfect, or we can add a past simple sentence with an expression of time or place.

'Have you ever fallen in love?' 'Yes. I've actually been in love twice.'
'Have you ever fallen in love?' 'Yes, I have. I fell in love twice with different women when I was in Japan.'

Recent past actions that are important now

We use the present perfect when things that happened in the recent past are important now.

Oh no! I've lost my wedding ring... My wife will kill me!

We use the past simple to say when the action happened.

lost my wedding ring last night...

Past situations that are still happening now

We use the present perfect for situations that started in the past and are still happening now.

I haven't seen my husband this morning. (It is still this morning.)

We use the past simple for situations that started and finished in the past.

I didn't see my husband this morning. (It is this afternoon or evening now.)

How long... questions

We sometimes use the present perfect in these questions.

How long have you lived with your boyfriend?

We talk about how long with the words for (meaning throughout a period of time) and since (meaning from a point of time to now - this can be a date or a past simple phrase).

We have lived together for three years.
We've been in a relationship since 2002.
I've known him since we were children.

If we know it is a completed event, we can ask a how long question with the past simple.

'How long did you live with your ex-husband?' 'We lived together for about six years. I moved out when I found out he was cheating!' 

With just, already and yet

We use the present perfect with justalready and yet to talk about recent events in the past. The exact time is not important. We use just and already mostly in positive sentences. We use yet in negative sentences and questions.

I've just met the most gorgeous man! I wonder if he's single...
'Let's go to the movies tonight, James.' 'We've already been three times this week. I think your movie mad, Jane!'
He hasn't asked me out yet.
Have you decided when to have your wedding yet?

Completed actions in the past

We usually talk about these actions and events using the past simple. We often include a time reference in these sentences.

met my wife on 3 July 1990 and we got married in August.
We went on holiday three times together in 1997.
We celebrated our 14th anniversary last August.
Our close friends moved to France three months ago.


Present perfect

We have lived together for six years.

The present perfect is made of two parts: the present form of the verb have and the past participle of the main verb.

Here is how it works in positive, negative and question forms.


subject + have + past participle

I have lived here for two years. I've lived here for two years.
We have lived together for one year. We've lived together for one year.
You have started dating that guy. You've started dating that guy.
They have been together much longer. They've been together much longer.

He has started seeing that girl. He's started seeing that girl.
She has forgiven him again. She's forgiven him again.


subject + haven't/hasn't + past participle

I haven't been in a relationship for years.
We haven't lived together very long.
You haven't moved in together yet.
They haven't been on holiday together.

He hasn't dated anyone else.
She hasn't been married before.
It hasn't been a great time for them.


Have/Has + subject + past participle

Have you asked her out?
Have they started dating?
Have we been married twenty-five years already?

Has he really dated her sister as well?
Has she seen anyone else lately?
Has it been long since you called her?

Past simple

With the past simple the form doesn't change for each person (I/you/he/she/it/we/they). Remember the regular verbs end -ed but irregular verbs don't follow this riule and have their own form.


I met my wife in France.
You arrived early.
He dated three women before meeting his wife.
She thought he was the one.
It seemed like a perfect relationship.
We wanted to go to the movies together.
They organised a special holiday for their anniversary.


subject + did not / didn't + verb

I did not / didn't meet her in Spain.
You did not /didn't see him again.
He did not / didn't get anything for their anniversary.
She did not / didn't tell him about her problem.
It did not / didn't end well.
We did not / didn't want to move in with his parents.
They did not / didn't want a flashy wedding ceremony.


Did + subject + verb

Did you ask him out then?
Did he propose on holiday?
Did she like her ring?
Did we book that band for the wedding reception?
Did they really run away together?

Take note: time expressions

We use the past simple, but not the present perfect, with past time expressions like yesterday, last month, six years ago, when I was a child.

CORRECT: What did you do when you finished college?

WRONG: What have you done when you finished college?


CORRECT: I left that company three years ago.

WRONG: I have left that company three years ago.

Take note: writing and speech

We often use the past simple (not the present perfect) to describe events in stories, when one thing happens after another in the past. We use the present perfect more in speech than in writing.

Spoken English

In everyday speech and writing, it’s common to use a contraction with the auxiliary verb in the present perfect and the past simple.

I’ve just been to the supermarket.

We haven’t ever tried eating snails.

He didn’t answer his phone when I called.