There are many confusing questions in Present Perfect vs. Past Simple debates, but one thing was always clear to me - if we refer to the past and use such phrases as "last week", "last year", etc. we just can't use Perfect. But I've just met this sentence in a PET grammar book:

Lots of people ... (help) us last year and we want to thank everyone.

The only option for me was to use Past Simple there - "lots of people helped ...", but according to the keys the right answer is "lots of people have helped us last year".

It's really confusing... Does it sound allright? My guess is there's some kind of context or meaning I can't see, but I'm really interested in how it could be explained. Thanks in advance.

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    Please cite the PET / Preliminary grammar book, I possess a number of them at home and I have not seen this type of usage ever being endorsed by Cambridge. If the book is not published by Cambridge press, I would change it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:58
  • cambridge.org/us/cambridgeenglish/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 22:05
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    @XandriaFlammel As Mari-Lou says: use only the real Cambridge materials found here. This is the second question you have posted regarding an obviously erroneous "course book". Unless you have copied inaccurately, that book contains mistakes which will mislead you and even decrease your chance of a good mark in the exam. Can you tell us who publishes this "grammar book"? Any "free PDF" or other internet copy is very likely to be a poor choice. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 22:54
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    @Mari-LouA Sure, it's Camdridge Grammar for PET by Louise Hashemi and Barbara Thomas, 8th printing from 2012, I guess. I met both of these things in Unit 6, p.34 (Ex.C1 - gap 9 and Ex.C2 gap 12). I've checked these sentences and keys several times, but it's clear - this book wants me to use 'have helped" >_< Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 21:42
  • Found a copy of the exercise, the quality's not great but it's legible html1-f.scribdassets.com/2d18ysxiyo41myow/images/… and here's the answer page html2-f.scribdassets.com/2d18ysxiyo41myow/images/… and you're absolutely right, the key says ... Lots of people have helped last year...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


Your grammar book is wrong: the present perfect is a present tense and is not used with temporal adjuncts which do not include the present. Last year without a preposition or a definite article designates the year before the current year, so it excludes the present, and you should not write

Lots of people have helped us last year.

It would however be OK to write this:

Lots of people have helped us since last year.

And the last year is the year-long timespan which runs right up to the present moment, so this would be OK:

Lots of people have helped us during the last year,

and this, omitting the preposition, would be natural in speech:

Lots of people have helped us the last year.

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    Or "this last year". Interesting how one simple determiner changes the time frame.
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:50
  • Have you seen Jelena's answer? Could there be a grain of truth in it? Is it possible, in informal speech at least, that this construction (Lots of people have helped us last year and we want to thank everyone.) is acceptable?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 7:33

Yes, Simple Past versus Present Perfect can be confusing. That said, one always has to remember to use an imaginary timeline where there is a line like this ____that extends forwards and backwards from a point, which is the present. The present for a speaker: _________________x_________________________

Quote With regard to: "last week", "last year", etc. we just can't use Perfect.

Lots of people ... (help) us last year and we want to thank everyone. Unquote

Let's look at the two ways to say it.

1) Lots of people helped us last year and we want to thank everyone.

Analysis: The speaker is speaking in the present and the year in question is finished. The speaker is speaking in 2017 and referring to 2016. So simple past.

2) Lots of people have helped us this past [or last] year and want to thank them.

Analysis: The speaker is speaking while the year is still in progress; it has not yet ended.

You can use PP with this week or this year, if the week or year is NOT YET ENDED when you say the sentence (time of speaking). This week [not yet over], I have thanked many people. This week, I thanked many people. [The TIME OF THANKING is over].

That said, in your example, the book is wrong: for PP to be possible, it has to be: Lots of people have helped us this year [where the year is not yet over].

It is not grammatical to say: Many people have helped us LAST YEAR because last year is always over. It's only with THIS YEAR that you can use either simple past (the action is over) or present perfect (the time period is not yet over).

Try to position yourself on the timeline at the x, speak the sentence and ask yourself: Is the time period over? Yes? Then, simple past (last year, last week) or Is the time period not yet over? EITHER simple past or simple perfect, depending on what YOU want to say re the action. This week I have thanked many people [the week is not over and the action in the past is not specified as being at a specific moment]

This week I thanked many people. [the week is not over and I thanked them on Wednesday or Friday etc. The actual moment of thanking them that is over implies it was specifically at a time even IF they actual MOMENT is not mentioned.


As the sentence is not over with “a lot of people (help) us last year...” You have “... and we WANT to thank them.” The sentence ends with present simple, hence the present perfect have helped instead of past simple.

There's nothing wrong with the book. The adverb has no power over the rest of the sentence.

  • Welcome to ELL and thank you for answering. Please read our tour and Help Center pages. They will help you write a useful answer. We hope you will visit again and ask some questions of your own! Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 3:11
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    Personally, I find this answer intriguing. We learn that the film has recently won an award, so the film director and the star are speaking in the present, and they want to thank those people who helped financed their film last year. (This last action is clearly completed in the past, but without the million pounds loan (simple past) the film would not have won a prize (present perfect). Jelena argues that we want to thank them is in the present simple, thus the speakers consider the act of loaning money as being connected to the present.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 7:26
  • Hm, an interesting point of view... But isn't it a compound sentence with two independent clauses? We can easily divide this sentence into two: A lot of people helped us last year. Now we want to thank everyne. So... Why shoud the second sentence affect the first one? Aren't these two constructions (a compound sentence and two simple sentences) equal, in fact? Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 8:21

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