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My question is which one to use in the following example:

_____ you _____ at the end of Titanic? (cry)

I think it should be present perfect since it doesn't have a time expression, the exact time is unknown or it doesn't matter, and it refers to an experience.
But some say it has to be simple past because it (the crying) happened at the time of watching the movie, so it's an exact, known time.

Now, I feel like following that logic would mean that if I said "I've seen Titanic", it would also be wrong since it also happened in an exact time, nothing really can happen in a non-exact time, but that's physics, not English usage. But obviously it's not wrong.

So, does crying at the end of it make it a known, specified time that requires the usage of past simple? If it does, why?

  • Thanks for the approved answer badge! Hope my answer helped! – Teacher KSHuang May 9 '17 at 8:43
  • Just so you know, I made a revision to the last part of my answer based on a comment from @fixer1234. – Teacher KSHuang May 10 '17 at 7:57
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Short Answer

Both are possible.

Long answer

But the speaker most likely (99% of the time) means, "Did you cry at the end of Titanic?"

Longer Answer

I think the confusion stems from thinking of this as an experience versus an event.

Do we want to know:

  • Have you ever cried at the end of Titanic? (experience) or
  • Did you cry at the end of Titanic? (event)

As the question is currently phrased, it is asking about the event, which is why we use past tense.

How do we know?

As others have told you, an exact point in time has been specified: "at the end of Titanic."

If you expand your definition of exact points in time to include phrases such as:

  • Did you cry at the time (of your brother's birth)?
  • Did you cry when your baby brother was born?
  • Did you cry on your mother's birthday?
  • Did you cry after the wedding?

...you will see that there are more variations to time phrases than the usual, "at 7 o'clock," "in the morning," "on Sunday," etc.

In the meantime, if the question had been phrased with "ever" in the sentence, i.e., "____ you ever ____ at the end of Titanic?", then I would be inclined to agree with you that that would be a question about the experience of crying while watching Titanic.

Edit

Per a comment made by @fixer1234, please also note that if one were to ask "Have you ever cried at the end of Titanic?," this would imply that the person being asked most likely watches Titanic repeatedly and possibly always cries at the end of it.

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  • 2
    Good answer, but my take on the last portion is a little different. The implication to me would be that the person has watched Titanic many times. So it could always refer to crying at the end. "Did" would refer to seeing it once. "Have" would refer to any one or more of the viewings. – fixer1234 May 9 '17 at 20:43
  • @fixer1234, when you say it like that, I totally agree. Allow me to edit and submit to you for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call my story...oops, sorry, wrong medium :O :D. – Teacher KSHuang May 10 '17 at 7:40
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It is Did you cry.

The PAST TENSE indicates that an action is in the past relative to the speaker or writer.

  • when the time period has finished: "We went to Chicago last Christmas."
  • when the time period is definite: "We visited Mom last week."
  • with for, when the action is finished: "I worked with the FBI for two months."

While

The PRESENT PERFECT TENSE is formed with a present tense form of "to have" plus the past participle of the verb (which can be either regular or irregular in form). This tense indicates either that an action was completed (finished or "perfected") at some point in the past or that the action extends to the present:

  • I have walked two miles already [but I'm still walking].

  • I have run the Boston Marathon [but that was some time ago].

  • The critics have praised the film Saving Private Ryan since it came out [and they continue to do so].

Simple past: I ate a lot of cake. (I’m finished eating cake.) Present perfect: I’ve eaten a lot of cake. (I may eat more cake.)

Moreover:

  • Simple past: I lived in London for three years. (I don’t live in London anymore.)
  • Present perfect: I have lived in London for three years. (I still live in London.)

  • Simple past: Why didn’t you send me any messages? (The time for sending messages is over.)

  • Present perfect: Why haven’t you sent me any messages? (You can still send me a message.)
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