My friend told me that

I've visited America when I was a kid

Was wrong because ...was a kid is a specified point in the past. He said I should use

I visited America when I was a kid

How could when I was a kid is a specified time in the past? It's obviously unclear.

  • When I was a kid refers to the time (or a period of time) that is over. It was in the past and it has nothing to do with present. See it in this way :) you can rephrase the sentence in this way if you want to use present perfect: I've visited America since I was a kid. It implies the countinuity of the action to the present and implies you've done it a couple of times not only when you were a kid but in other stages of your life. – Yuri Oct 15 '16 at 11:57

Your friend is correct—you should not ordinarily use expressions like when I was a kid to modify a present perfect clause.

However, the term he uses to explain this, specified, is wrong. Don't blame your friend— this explanation was developed some forty years ago, at a time when linguists were wrestling with what was called the "Present Perfect Puzzle", and since then it has been passed on to several generations of English teachers. In many cases it looks like a valid explanation: for instance, it seems to "explain" why I have finished at 7 o'clock last night is not grammatical.

But in fact the "rule" involved here has nothing to do with specificity. The best contemporary understanding of the rule is that

because the present perfect is a statement about the present it may only be used with time expresssions which include the present.

Expressions like at 7 o'clock last night and when I was a kid designate moments or timespans which lie entirely in the past. That is why they cannot be used within a present perfect clause.

Note, however, that there are exceptions to this rule. These are tricky "edge cases" where the time expression doesn't actually modify the present perfect; you may read about them here.

Note, too, that the rule is often violated in casual improvised speech and writing, where people have no opportunity (or desire) to plan what they're saying, or to edit it into strict grammaticality. So when you encounter a violation, consider the register—is it formal or informal?—before you rush off to ask us "Why?" In most cases it's just a mistake, and not a particularly important one.

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  • Wait, what do you mean by statement about the present it may only be used with time expresssions which include the present. Did you mean present perfect has nothing to relate with a past event? – user178049 Oct 15 '16 at 13:00
  • @user178049 - Technically, the present perfect is about relating a past event to the present. It's present because you say I have, which is present tense, just like you would say "I have a big suitcase", and you can't use it with a time reference in the past just like you can't say "I have a big suitcase last week." – stangdon Oct 15 '16 at 13:02
  • @user178049 The present perfect designates a present state which originated in the past eventuality. Exactly what that present state is must be inferred: it may be the result of the past eventuality, or the 'existence' of the past eventuality in memory or experience, or the continuation of a past state into the present. See this. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 15 '16 at 13:54

when I was a kid

refers to the time when you were a child. It is a specific time in the past in the same way as

when I was 10 years old

neither are a specific point-of-time in the past, but for both expressions the period of time started and ended in the past (unless you are a 10 year old...).

The viable options for your sentence are

I visited America when I was a kid.
I had visited America when I was a kid.
I have visited America several times since I was a kid.

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  • What about "where have you been at in the last few years"?.. I heard this a lot of time. I think last few years is a complete period. – user178049 Oct 15 '16 at 11:51
  • 2
    "Last few years", "last few weeks", "last few days" all include the present. "Where had you gone last week?", "Where were you last week?", would refer to a period that ended in the past. "Where have you been last week?" is not quite correct, "Where had you been..." and "Where were you..." are better choices. – Peter Oct 15 '16 at 12:03

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