I have never heard that we could use "when" with Perfect tenses especially with Present Perfect before. We use Past Simple when we are talking about the time. But today I have found one example:

When has your brother visited you?

Is it correct? I have seen it at a native resource.


2 Answers 2


As FumbleFingers and 1006a mention in the comments, there's nothing grammatically wrong with using the present perfect with "when". However, it imbues the question with nuance, since it often implies that there has never been such an occurrence (though you would expect there should have been.)

When have you written to your brother? (I have never known you to write to you brother).

This usage would normally include a word like "ever" to emphasize that the event never happened.

When has your brother (ever) visited us? (Your brother has never come to visit)

When has your mother (ever) come to visit and not found something to complain about? (your mother always complains about something in the house when she visits)

When has a politician (ever) told the truth? (Politicians never tell the truth)

Alternately, as a response the present perfect can be used to express doubt:

A. I did go to the dentist!
B. When have you been to the dentist? (I don't think you really have gone)

A. She went to see her mother in the hospital.
B. When has she been to see her mother in the hospital? (I don't think she has been to see her mother)


The most likely paraphrase of simple past:

When did your brother contact you?

is, On what occasion or at what time did your brother contact you?

An answer might be:

My brother contacted me when the plane landed.

The answer refers to a single event that happened in the past.

The most likely paraphrase of the present perfect:

When has your brother contacted you?

is, On what occasions or under what circumstances did your brother contact you?

An answer might be:

My brother contacted me whenever he was feeling homesick.

My brother has contacted me whenever he is feeling homesick.

The present perfect will NOT refer to a single incident that took place entirely in the past and does not impinge on the present.

  • I was on board with everything here until the final present perfect ... does not impinge on the present. I take as my starting position that using the present perfect [almost?] always implies a closer connection between "time of speaking" and "past event(s)" than does the simple past. Perhaps it's a contrivance too far, but I'm inclined to think in OP's case, the perfect form reflects this position because it implicitly lumps together the entire past (right up until now, which is one end of that timespan), rather than focusing on a single "unconnected to now" point in past time. Mar 21, 2017 at 13:58
  • I'm not sure I follow. Are you referring with "the final" to my last example sentence, "...whenever he is feeling homesick"? Or to the final statement that the pres. perf. does NOT refer to single incidents that took place entirely in the past and do not impinge on the present.
    – TimR
    Mar 21, 2017 at 16:58
  • It's not clear to me whether the final sentence in your answer is a "generic" assertion, or refers specifically to the immediately preceding example (which strikes me as a slightly unusual choice of tense after whenever anyway). But take John has always sent me a postcard whenever he was on holiday abroad. It seems to me that if John is no longer alive at time of speaking, you can only really include has there if his death was very recent (you're speaking at his funeral wake, for example). Because of the way Present Perfect implies relevance to the present moment, I think. Mar 22, 2017 at 13:51
  • If John is deceased, I wouldn't use "has always sent" but a past tense, unless he is being spoken of as still present in our minds and hearts or something like that.
    – TimR
    Mar 22, 2017 at 14:18

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