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Have you read any of Mark Twain books?
Yes, I have. My dad (gave / has given) them to me for my last birthday.

The confusion is that last birthday is an exact date in the past. On the other hand, the books are still with me now, so is it a present perfect sentence or a past sentence? (or could be both depending on focus?)

What if the verb was (to read) in the second sentence, would it be:

Yes, I have. I have read them after my last birthday.

or

Yes, I have. I read them during my last birthday.

I have not perfected the present perfect! so in each of the last two cases could you reason why please?

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    Past actions are always in past tense unless it was continuously happening in the past. – VijayaRagavan Nov 12 '13 at 11:53
  • As for the exception (unless) in your first comment, I do not think it is the only exception. For example, what if it was continuously happening in the past till now? would it still be in past tense? – learner Nov 12 '13 at 12:36
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It's not a matter of an "exact" date, but of the location of the timeframe you are referring to. The present perfect is a present tense, not a past tense. Consequently, you may not use the present perfect with temporal expressions which define a timeframe which does not include the present. This overrides any consideration of the enduring effects of the action.

Your sentence employs a date (my last birthday) which lies entirely in the past, so you must use the past tense gave, not the present perfect.

My dad gave them to me for my last birthday.

But you may use an exact date with a present perfect if the date defines the "left" boundary of the timeframe you are talking about and the "right" boundary of that timeframe is in the present:

I have read this book twice since my last birthday.

Here you are speaking of a timeframe which extends from a particular point in the past right down to the moment when you are speaking.

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"The confusion is that last birthday is an exact date in the past. On the other hand, the books are still with me now, so is it a present perfect sentence or a past sentence?"

Yes, but the verb is "gave". In context, we are talking about when he gave you the books, which was presumably at a specific time in the past. Whether or not you still have the books is not relevant to the tense of the event.

Like if someone asked when you were married, you might say, "I married Sally last August". You wouldn't say, "I have married Sally last August". The fact that you are still married has nothing to do with it.

If, in this example, your father gave you book on your 15th birthday and another on your 16th birth and another on your 17th birthday, you might say, "My father has given me these books for birthday presents", meaning that he has given them over a period of time for presents for multiple birthdays.

Likewise, changing the verb to "read" doesn't change the grammar. You could say, "I read this book on my last birthday." You read it once, on your birthday. You could say, "I have read this book since my last birthday." At some undefined time after your last birthday, you read the book. "I have been reading these books during vacations." Over an extended period of time covering many vacations.

"I have read this book after my last birthday." Hmm, it sounds very awkward to me, I think because "after" implies a specific time. If you replace "after" with "since" it works, because "since" implies an unspecified time.

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It's clear past tense

Yes, I have. My dad gave them to me for my last birthday.

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    Although I think as you do for the first sentence, your answers are missing the reasoning which is as important as the correct answer or may be more. – learner Nov 12 '13 at 12:04

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