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I’ve tried to help you.
The action happened in the past but I don’t say when.

I tried to help you yesterday.
The action happened in the past but I say when.

  1. Which is correct and which is not? I’m very confused!
  2. Is there a simple rule to follow?

More Examples:

You can use the account that you’ve already created.
You can use the account that you already created.

I’ve sent you an email. Please check your Inbox.
I sent you an email. Please check your Inbox.

  • All are correct. With or without have all means same! Nevertheless, putting have in these sentences gives the flair of things being recently done (and not way back in past). – Maulik V Jan 23 '14 at 9:06
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    @Maulik Mostly right. But although linguists have been arguing about the perfect for 250 years, they generally agree it has nothing to do with recency. – StoneyB Jan 23 '14 at 10:08
  • @StoneyB Adding been would change it certainly. I strictly talked about the scenario mentioned by OP. – Maulik V Jan 23 '14 at 10:19
  • 4
    If you state a time period and that time period has finished, you must use past simple. – JMB Jan 23 '14 at 11:29
  • 1
    I've tried to help you implies you've tried to help them more than once, I think. (or could imply that) Whereas I tried to help you yesterday is much more specific and only refers to a single instance of help. – starsplusplus Jan 23 '14 at 15:55
2

Which sentence is incorrect will depend upon:

  1. The country you are speaking the sentence in.
  2. Signal words you are using in the sentence &

In British English, the use of Simple Past and Present Perfect is quite strict. As soon as a time expression in the past is given, you have to use Simple Past. However in American English, you can normally use Simple Past instead of Present Perfect, so the following rules rarely apply to American English.

Signal words:

If signal words explicitly define that the event is in past, you have to use Simple Past.

eg.

  1. yesterday
  2. ... ago (an year ago)
  3. in 1990
  4. the other day
  5. last .. (last summer) etc.

Example sentence: I phoned Mary 2 minutes ago.

If signal words do not explicitly define that the event is in past, you use Present Perfect.

  1. just
  2. already
  3. up to now
  4. until now / till now
  5. ever
  6. (not) yet
  7. so far
  8. lately / recently

Example sentence: I have just called Mary.

Source (Shamelessly copied word-to-word)

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