Imagine you are with your family and you are play with your child by quickly tapping their back. Now if the child has seen you moving should they say to you:

I have seen you or I saw you

I feel, maybe from my watching experience, saw is the right response but then, does not this scenario better fit the present perfect because what is involved here is only the person who taps and the recent action, not the time (both parties know the time).

P.S. Now I could think of the game hide and seek as another example of this issue

  • I think "I saw you!" sounds better when I imagined that the child saw you at first, then somehow move yourself out of the child's eyesight, and then you tapped the child. However, I believe that "I've seen you" could also be used too, e.g. "I've seen you first!" But the most likely phrase I imagine the child might say is probably "I know you were there all the time!" Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 6:58
  • @DamkerngT. You're almost correct, and I mostly agree with you, but I've seen you first is incorrect. How many times have you seen them? How ofter? Where?, etc. That's what makes I've seen you first wrong. Aside form the fact that the sentence contains the adverb first, you're telling them that you just saw them. And, in your last sentence, know needs to be in the past tense (i.e. known). I've seen, is more like I've seen you around town. Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:23
  • @JohnQPublic - I know "I've seen you (first)" sounds weird, and I won't personally use it. However, before I ruled that out, I figured that it might be possible if the child saw the OP first and might keep seeing the OP (maybe in the corner of her eye or in a mirror or something) but pretended she didn't know that. That's why I thought it's possible to use. Maybe I was thinking too much. ;) Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:30
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    @DamkerngT. Wouldn't it be better to use the past perfect? I really don't think you can use have seen you first, especially with this scenario. I'd seen you before you came out of hiding Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:35
  • Ahh... Agreed. Past perfect sounds much better. Thanks! Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:36

1 Answer 1


It's I saw you or I see you (if playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo).

When you say I have seen you, what you're really saying is I've seen you several times at [possibly] various places. Or that you've just seen them around somewhere or sometime. There is no indication of a beginning and end of the event; or if there is, you're unaware of the details.

Present perfect is used for events that began at an unspecified point in the past. You may or may not know whether it's still happening or not. It usually has relevance to the present,

As for I saw you, that's the simple past; and as you've suggested, it's correct.

The simple past is used for events that have only occurred once, were one-time events with a definite ending, and/or are not happening again (i.e I mean that specific event).

So, to return to the hide-and-seek reference, you use the simple past saw because you only saw them ocne. And once you saw them, that event was over.

Where it gets tricky is that I saw you technically means:

I saw you hiding in [the closet]. So you only say that after they come out of hiding, meaning You weren't very well hidden, because I saw you the entire time.

If they're hiding, and you can see them, then it's obviously I can see you.

I've seen you hiding, means you've seen them hiding previously, possibly many times. It also is something that you would say if your child asked you to play hide and seek; in turn, you'd say:

Please. I don't want to play; there's no sense in playing since every time we do, I've always seen you hiding. It's just too easy; I've beat you several times already.

The best rule of thumb that I can think of would be that if it only occurred once, you have no reason to expect it will return, and you know exactly when it happened, then it's the preterite.

Otherwise, you'd use the present perfect.

  • I've just finished reading your answer for the first time and I just couldn't wait to thank you. I Think I'll probably come back to ask. Your answer is just great especially the hide and seek part.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 14:39

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