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I was searching for something and I didn't find it. So I would say to my friend:

I searched for it but I didn't find it.

or

I've searched but haven't found it.

What is the difference between them?

3 Answers 3

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TL/DR:

I haven't found it.

Implies you will keep looking, as in I haven't found it...yet.

I didn't find it.

Implies that you will not continue the search.

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There are three aspects to consider, when it comes to the decision present perfect versus simple past.

  1. Is there a signal word for one of the two candidates?
  2. Is the action finished?
  3. Do you want to emphasize the consequences of the action to present?

I searched for something but I didn't find anything.

There are no signal words, the actions are completely finished and there is maybe a consequence to the present, i.e. you were not able to find your wallet, so you'll have to ask someone for money.

I have searched for something but I haven't found it.

There are no signal words, actions are finished, so perfect seems not the best choice.

Here is my proposal:

I searched for my keys in the morning, unfortunately I haven't found them yet.

In the first part of the sentence, you have signal word for the past tense (time) and in the second part for the present perfect (yet).

NOTE: I am neither a native speaker nor an expert - I am just trying to help!

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    I'm only a native speaker, and have never seen the rule set out in the way you have done. I just learned how to say these things at my mother's knee. But I am very impressed with the rationale you have given - and it produces the correct answers too.
    – WS2
    Aug 31, 2017 at 20:48
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    What if I said " I've been searching for something" so the second part should be" but I haven't found anything" or "I didn't find anything"?
    – Abc
    Aug 31, 2017 at 21:39
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To distinguish between past simple and present perfect simple tenses, you have to be aware about three important points here, which are :

  1. The time in which an action happened; at a certain time in the past (even if it was just a few seconds ago) or that an action has just happened?

For example: I phoned him 5 minutes ago. // I have just phoned him.

  1. Whether an action took place at a particular time in the past or how often an action has happened and somehow continued till the present.

For example: I visited London last October. // I have been to London for some time (-> means that I went to London and I'm back now)

  1. Emphasis on action or result?; to express what happened in the past! Or to show the result that comes up with that action ( the consequence of the past's action in the present).

For example: I bought a car. (Just telling what I did it ) // I have bought a car ( I want to express what I did and expect your reflection on that).

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