I'm walking out of a bar and I'm putting my hand in my pocket, and I can't find my wallet.

So it's better to say "I have forgotten my wallet" or "I forgot my wallet" ?


3 Answers 3


Grammatically, either version is fine for OP's context, but most people would probably go for the shorter Simple Past version most of the time (if only because it is shorter and simpler).

The difference is really one of fine nuance. Present Perfect focuses more explicitly on your current state - that of being without your wallet due to (past) forgetfulness. Simple Past actually carries the same meaning in OP's exact context, but it's important to note that this is a contextual implication.

Consider a slightly different scenario where the speaker is paying his drinks bill with a credit card, but forgetfulness strikes in the form of a senior moment at the "Enter PIN number" stage. Credible things he might say to the barman to explain the problem include...

1) I have (more commonly, I've) forgotten my PIN
2) I forgot my PIN
3) I forget my PIN

I think in that situation the Present Perfect would probably be most likely. Note that in practice the Simple Present (#3) doesn't actually occur very often with the specific verb to forget. We don't tend to think of forgetting as a "continuous" activity - it's usually the case that at some unspecified point in the (usually, very recent) past the speaker realised he couldn't recall some relevant information because it had already been forgotten. Thus to some people it might sound a little odd to use Present Tense to say you're currently forgetting something - which almost implies that immediately prior to speaking, you hadn't yet forgotten it.

Short Answer:

Both are perfectly natural, and it would be stretching a point to say either is "better" in most contexts. But as ever - for simplicity, most learners would do better to avoid Perfect forms unless they're absolutely necessary (the KISS principle).

  • when we say "I forgot " that mean we know where the thing forgotten is ,but in case we don't know where the thing or the object is, isn't it better to use the present perfect because we are more focused on the present state
    – Yves Lefol
    Jun 22, 2017 at 17:14
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    @user5577: No, I don't think that line of reasoning can be used to justify Present Perfect in OP's context. Consider the contrite husband coming home from work exactly one year after getting married: I'm really sorry I forgot our anniversary. At time of speaking he hasn't "forgotten" (in fact, he's acutely aware of the situation). He might use Present Perfect if his wife hasn't yet said anything (by way of explaining why he isn't carrying a bunch of roses), but usually it would be Simple Past (he's sorry for something he did in the past; forgetting). Jun 22, 2017 at 17:44
  • @FumbleFingers "He might use Present Perfect if his wife hasn't yet said anything (by way of explaining why he isn't carrying a bunch of roses)". Can you explain this, I don't quite understand.
    – anouk
    Jan 28, 2022 at 22:01
  • Don't overthink this one! I said my example "forgot first anniversary" husband might use the Perfect form - but he probably wouldn't, and most native speakers probably wouldn't think the stylistic choice made any difference at all to the meaning. I'm just suggesting that at the margin, one might more readily "justify" the Perfect form if the wife hasn't yet said anything, because at that precise moment the husband is acutely aware of the difference between what he's thinking now, and what he (wasn't) thinking earlier. The Perfect emphasises the "connection" between those 2 times. Jan 29, 2022 at 18:56
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    @anouk: Sorry I was a bit tetchy yesterday. Back pain sometimes makes me irritable. My point is we're talking about a very fine distinction here. I'm pretty sure it's "real", but partly that's because I'm degree-level educated in English and I've given it a lot of thought. Native speakers wouldn't normally consciously recognise the effect I'm talking about (possibly many/most wouldn't even subconsciously adjust their interpretation of the utterance). But it's just that using Present Perfect tends to emphasise the fact of there being some (albeit short) time between "past" & "now". Feb 1, 2022 at 11:29

As @SovereignSun pointed out, they are both perfectly fine. It just depends on what tense you want to use.

The Present Perfect Tense (I have forgotten) is formed with a present tense form of "to have" (I have) plus the past participle of the verb, which can be either regular or irregular in form see here which in the case of forgotten the verb is a past participle of the irregular verb "forget".

The Past Tense or Simple Past Tense (I forgot) indicates that an action is in the past relative to the speaker or writer.

Both phrases are gramatically correct because they follow the rules of each part of their relevant tenses.


Both are appropriate. I'd probably use the simple past just because it's a tiny bit shorter and more definite and I'd want to get back in the bar as quickly as possible to retrieve my wallet.

To get some insight into the difference, consider a conversation with your roommate the next morning. If you noticed forgetting your wallet when you came out of the bar, you'd say "I forgot my wallet" when talking about it the next morning. That's because the episode is over. Especially if you successfully retrieved your wallet, you would not use the present perfect. You'd say "Last night, I forgot my wallet at the bar, but luckily I noticed right as we were leaving, and I went back in and found it."

Now suppose that you didn't notice forgetting your wallet when you left the bar. You're talking the next morning with your roommate and you notice right then. Now both simple past and present perfect are appropriate, because the story of your forgotten wallet is not yet over. "Oh no! I've forgotten my wallet! I must have left it at the bar!" You're describing the current situation as part of an ongoing story that began last night. Because the present perfect frames the past event as part of some process that continues unbroken to the present and perhaps into the future, choosing the present perfect also suggests that you have some hope that you could still recover your wallet.

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