The simple past tense indicates that an activity or situation began and ended at a particular time in the past.

The present perfect expresses the idea that something happened (or never happened) before now, at an unspecified time in the past.The exact time it happened is not important. It also expresses the repetition of an activity before now. The exact time of each repetition is not important.

Even though I understand the explanation above, I can't figure out: If the present perfect states the idea that something happened in the past, why not use the simple past?

For example, would you please explain the following sentence to tell the difference between these two tenses?

  • The plane crashed there.

  • The plane has crashed there.

What is the biggest difference between them?

  • I'm a bit confused. You refer to simple past, but present perfect, then define present perfect as occurring in the past, and then give an example that is indeed present. Which are you asking about, past or present perfect?
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 13, 2013 at 3:21
  • @WendiKidd What I am confused is that : If the present perfect expresses the idea that something happened (or never happened) before now,does it mean in the past? If so ,why not use the simple past?
    – user48070
    Nov 13, 2013 at 3:41
  • @WendiKidd Why I gave the example is because I hope to give you an example to explain your idea.
    – user48070
    Nov 13, 2013 at 3:42

3 Answers 3


Present Perfect implies a strong connection to the present (time of speaking). Often, the connection is no more than that the past action being referred to happened very recently.

1: The plane crashed there last year
2: ??The plane has crashed there last year (an extremely unlikely utterance)
3: The plane crashed there just now
4: The plane has crashed there just now

Simple Past doesn't necessarily imply an action occurred further back in the past than something described using Present Perfect - it's just a more "general-purpose" verb form. Thus #3 and #4 are both normal English.

  • This distinction is not strictly kept in American English as it is in British English. (American English users are more likely to use either tense to describe a past event without regard to this rule.) "Connection to the present" is often a factor tending toward choosing the present perfect, as is repetition and long or continuous duration. The specification of a precise time tends to occur with the past simple, no matter how recent, as long as it was a single event that has finished in the past: That mosquito just bit me. Jan 13, 2015 at 19:42
  • 1
    @Jim: For me, a "defining case" re my #4 above might be something like one snooker commentator saying to the other "He's had another bad kick just then" (a 'kick' being a bad bounce/contact between two balls, caused by poorly-understood factors). To me, omitting the 's there would imply the speaker was informing his audience about the kick. Having it present implies a context where the commentators were already discussing kicks, and there's another one. Okay - maybe that's really there was another, but sometimes you need to contrive things a bit to make the link to the present. Jan 13, 2015 at 22:53
  • Yes. Or maybe the plane has crashed just now has a stronger connection to the present when a result of the crash (e.g., fire or risk of fire) is important now (the speaker may be involved in public safety communications, for example). Had you heard of the Am/Br difference I mention? I have only run into the idea recently, but in multiple places. It would be better if grammars and related textbooks and teachers (e.g., ESL teachers) could clarify that rules of thumb or factors are just that, not "rules". And that the fuzziness, subtleties, and complexities are so important. Jan 14, 2015 at 2:40
  • @Jim: Imagine two people arranging their joint scheduled interactions for the following week. One says "But don't forget I'm washing my hair on Friday". Or could have said "...**I'll be* washing my hair."* I can easily convince myself BrE speakers prefer the first version, because we habitually bend the grammar (future tense "will") in favour of the meaning (present tense because it matters now). But maybe I'm just distinguishing careful/inventive speakers from rule-followers. It's way past the level of "learning English". Jan 14, 2015 at 5:21
  • 1
    @Jim: If you define "tense" as being those cases where we inflect the base verb form differently to convey "temporality", English only has past (you defined) and present (you define). Apart from that, the ontinuous -ing inflection, and the "conjugation" of present tense for 1st/2nd/3rd person singular/plural, everything else is conveyed by "auxiliary" verbs (was defining, did define, will define, etc.). Jan 14, 2015 at 16:06

I believe that, the present perfect is used when the action took place in the past; but has some connection with the present time.

In this case, there's no specification of the exact time of action. Furthermore, there's an implied lenght of the action that took place.

I've walked down the street to welcome my parents.

In this example, you note that the action expressed by the verb here is like a process. Whereas, the simple past is preferred to as precise-time-oriented tense. i.e., it's used when the action takes place at a specific and specified moment in the past.

In this other case, we don't note (almost) any length in the action.

I went to Africa in 2012.

Hence, the difference between the two tenses is much more at the level of time, action duration and its connection to the present time. now, consider the following sentences:

  1. I went to Africa in 2012.
  2. I have gone in Africa in 2012*.

(Do you see how odd the second one is?)


I think saying the plane has crushed is completely wrong, since it has just referred to the action which has no connection with now. We use present perfect when there is a connection with now. The easiest way to know how to use present perfect is to know if it is a one time action, or an action which can be repeated. like plane never crush repeatedly. I think if someone needs to learn to use present perfect is to go verb by verb, meaning which verbs can be repeated which not.
For using some action verbs both in perfect and in past we can do that by using an adverb of time.

Like, "I played football yesterday." or "I have played football since I was a child."

If you check the two sentences above, you can simply find the difference.

Now ,to make it more clear, I write them without time expressions: "I played football./ I have played football."
Does any of these sentences mean anything? Obviously not, they don't give any proper meaning.

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