I'd like to say in my native language we don't have present perfect tense (we use past simple only, no matter if the time is specified, if it's about result etc.), so it's really hard for me to get used to that time.

I've recently read that we don't use present perfect with "When?, Where? and Who?" or when we want to answer these questions, but I've seen examples like "Who's been using my toothbrush" and now, I don't know which rules should I follow. Also, I've seen that many people don't use the perfect tense even if it's correct to use it, especially native English speakers, who use past simple much more often, e.g. "I saw examples" instead of "I've seen examples" even if they don't mean specific time or place. Why do they do that? And, would it be okay if I did same thing in cases like these? Wouldn't that sound strange?

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    Where did you read that "we don't use present perfect" with WH-question words? It's important to understand that words like "rules" and "correct" aren't applicable to spoken language. People don't follow rules when they speak English any more than they do in your own language, and no-one ever interrupts another to say "Hey! That's incorrect!" (unless they are nasty folk with whom we would rather not be having a conversation in the first place!) Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 19:58
  • "I've seen that many people don't use the perfect tense even if it's correct to use it" — It's never correct or incorrect to use a tense or aspect. It's a question of whether you mean it took place at this or that time; whether it is or isn't over and done with; whether it still has consequences for the present or not; etc. People use the tense and aspect that convey their meaning. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 19:58
  • @P.E.Dant When talking (asking) about the details regarding a particular piece of news (even though you announce the news themselves with a present perfect), or when talking about circumstances (When? Where? Who?) leading to the present situation, you usually use a past simple because your focus is on the event itself, and it would be redundant to use the present perfect again.
    – user3395
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 20:06
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    I read that on this site: ef.com/english-resources/english-grammar/present-perfect , exactly here : Note: When we want to give or ask details about when, where, who, we use the simple past. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 21:31
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    The problem is, in certain situations I don't know which time I should use. Following the rule I mentioned in the comment above, this example : "Where have you left my phone"( despite I want to know where the phone is now) is incorrect, isn't it? Same would happen if somebody asked me "Where is my phone?". I wouldn't know if I should answer with "It's where you left it" or "It's where you've left it". The rules are unclear to me, and I'd really appreciate if someone explained me which forms are correct and why. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 21:41

1 Answer 1


I think what the page meant by saying "when, where, who" is that the perfect form doesn't go well with expressions suggests a particular time. The example sentences given at the linked page seem to be all about it.

The default past tense is the simple past, as Michael Swan says in his Practical English Usage (§421.4 "In general, the simple past tense is the ‘normal’ one for talking about the past; we use it if we do not have a special reason for using one of the other tenses.")

The perfect forms are needed basically to add the sense of completion to non-finite verbs such as infinitives, participles, and modal verbs. Because such tool exists, it's also used to talk about past events, but it ends up saying 'up until now' ('up until sometime ago' when it's the past perfect). Because it's tenseless by itself, it makes the sense of time vague, thus it has the sense of duration at the same time it conveys the sense of completion.

The use of the perfect forms are more to do with meaning than tense. Grammar books usually says it's one of tense form, but actually it's not about tense. Linguists call it 'aspect'.

The perfect form goes well with expressions like already, recently, just, since, ever, never. But it doesn't go well with expressions of particular point of time, when, such as yesterday.

I've read something more relevant to the OP's question, in the same M. Swan's PEU:

§457.1 (...) we usually prefer a past tense when we identify the person, thing or circumstances responsible for a present situation (because we are thinking about the past cause, not the present result). Compare:
Look what John's given me! (thinking about the gift)
Who gave you that? (thinking about the past action of giving)


PEU §456.5
We normally use the present perfect to announce news. But when we give more details, we usually change to a past tense.
There has been a plane crash near Bristol. Witnesses say that there was an explosion as the aircraft was taking off, ...

  • Let's say I've gone to Italy with a friend of mine. He asks me with question:"Have you ever been to Italy before" and I actually went to Italy last year. How do I answer? The main thing is about my experience so I'd use perfect tense like "I have, last year for example" but using perfect tense with describing time in the same sentence is not correct, even if it's mainly about my experience and the time is just additional info.Answer "I've already been here. I went here last year" would sound really strange, wouldn't it? Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 19:24
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    I think your idea is a good one. We can start by saying "I have that experience" using the perfect form, and continue to talk about the detail using the simple past. UK people might keep using the perfect, but US people will probably switch to the simple past.
    – karlalou
    Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 21:02
  • Would this version "I've been here last year" in the context of a question asked in perfect tense(Have you been here before) be gramatically correct? I mean it normally wouldn't but the answer is not focused on the event itself, it's focused on my experience, the "last year" part is the additional information. Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 21:52
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    You can say "I've been here before," but not "I've been here last year." It's because, I believe, it's about 'state/condition of the present moment' and that is why it's called "present perfect." Think about your own language. My language has some methods to talk about a past event as a present state/fact.
    – karlalou
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 2:08

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