Monday, May 21, 2007

Present Perfect or Simple Past?

ESL students feel more comfortable using the Simple Past. The Present Perfect is a bit more confusing, and with good reason. One of the three functions of the Present Perfect is very similar, and often interchangeable, with the function of the Simple Past.

The Simple Past is used to express something that started and ended at some time in the past. For example, “I ate breakfast.” One of the functions of the Present Perfect is to discuss something that has happened in the past with an unspecified time. For example, “I have eaten breakfast.” I can use both of these sentences to express what I did this morning.

The assumption with “I ate breakfast” is that the morning is over. I could say, “I ate breakfast this morning.” It’s now afternoon. If I say, “I’ve eaten breakfast,” it means that it’s still morning, or that breakfast is still being served.

One of the problems for ESL learners is that native English-speakers often use the Present Perfect and the Simple Past incorrectly.


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