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The Main 5 Tenses Part 2: Past Simple and Present Perfect

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

This is part 2 of the materials on the main 5 tenses. Part 1 is here, and Part 3 is here. This time we are looking at the tenses that connect the Past to the Present.


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Past simple


The past simple is used to talk about actions that started and finished in the past. We need to know when the action happened, either by saying so, or it being clear from the context of the conversation. This tense is used for any series of events that happen in order – “I lived in London, then I moved to Berlin, then I started a job, then I bought a house”… It can also be used for events that happened at the same time if we explain this in the sentence – “I lived in London and at the same time my brother lived in Milton Keynes”.



Positive form:

  • We sold over $2million in shares in the first quarter of this year.

  • Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004.

  • I joined the company after university.


Negative form:

  • We didn’t go to the trade fair last year because of Covid.

  • I didn’t study finance, I actually studied fine art.

  • They didn’t submit their tax declaration on time and paid a fine.

Remember, the negative form is to say that a specific event did not happen. If you want to explain that something has never happened you will need to use the present perfect – “I have never been to Spain” not “I didn’t ever go to Spain”.


Question form:

  • Did you contact the supplier last week?

  • Did they pay the invoices on time this month?

  • Did I need to send a written request for annual leave?



Exercise: Think of and tell a story related to any or all of the topics below;

  • A big change in my section/ department/ team/ division.

  • A business trip you went on.

  • A communication problem you had.

  • A complaint you had to deal with.

  • A difficult decision you had to make.

  • A long meeting you took part in.

  • A presentation that you gave.

  • A problem with technology you had.

  • A recent business news story you read.



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Present Perfect


The Present Perfect is used for a couple of different things. We’ll look at each separately.


Present Perfect Form: has / have + past participle


Use 1: “Up to now…”: The most straightforward use of the Present Perfect is the “up to now” use. We use the Present Perfect to say when a state or action in the present started or how long it has been happening for. We always add information about the starting point (since) or duration (for) of the action.


Positive form:

  • I have worked for this company since 2012.

  • He has been the manager for 8 years.


Negative form:

  • We haven’t sold this product since it was discontinued in 2021.

  • I haven’t been in the office for the last two weeks, so I don’t know what’s going on there.


Question form:

  • How long have you worked here for?

  • How long has the head office been located in Hamburg?

*it is possible to start the question with “since when” but it sounds unnatural to myself.



Use 2:“Impact on the Present”. This is a tricky one – we use the Present Perfect for an action that happened in the past, but the completed action has some kind of impact on the present. We never say when the completed action took place – if it matters, then you need to use the Past Simple.


Positive form:

  • I’ve finished all my work for today, so now I can leave the office early.

  • They have sent all the deliveries already, so everything will arrive on time.


Negative form:

  • He hasn’t paid any of the invoices we sent him, so now we are seeking legal action against him.

  • We haven’t managed to find a new sales manager, so the department needs to be managed by a junior member of staff for the next week.


Question form:

  • Have you written the report yet? Because we need it now.

  • Has he been to the factory before, otherwise he won’t know how to get there.


Notice how with each of the example sentences, the impact on the present is shown, either using the linking word “so”, “because”, “otherwise”….



Exercise:

I’ve actually made a separate post dealing with this very specific use of the Present Perfect. Click here for the post and exercises.



Use 3: “Have you ever” use. We are using the Present Perfect in the “have you ever” form to ask questions about peoples experiences. The question refers to any point in the past, it’s open ended, hence why it’s a good question form. This tense is really useful for getting to know people.


Question form:

  • Have you ever used this computer program before?

  • Have you ever been to our office in Cologne?


If the answer to the question “have you ever been to Cologne” was yes, then it’s unlikely that we would simply say “Yes, I have been to Cologne” as it would feel like you were trying to stop the conversation. Remember, when answering, we still can’t say when a specific action happened in the past, so we usually don’t use this form in a positive sentence. We usually answer these questions using the Past Simple and tell a story about whatever happened.


However, if the answer is “no”, because the action has never happened, then we’d simply say “No, I have never done that” or "No, I have never been to Cologne".


Exercise: how would you answer the following questions?


Have you ever….

  • …appeared on TV

  • …been to an English speaking country?

  • …given a speech to a large group of people?

  • ….managed a team of people?

  • …written something that was published?

  • …done voluntary work?

  • …taught group of people something?

  • …invented anything?

  • …had a good ideas for a business?

  • …won a prize for something?


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Understand the theory, but want some more practice using these tenses in real life? - message me on joel.white.english@gmail.com to discuss having personalised English lessons.

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