I've been taught that the Present perfect tense is used when an action happened in the past and it is important now (or when it happened in the past and it is still ongoing).

Though, look at these examples:

Carla can't play basketball. She has broken her leg.

Carla can't play basketball. She broke her leg yesterday

The first example is the same as the second one, but the 2nd example is just using simple past tense. So, why grammar says that we have to use Present perfect tense when the action has an influence in the present since I can use simple past tense and it would have the same influence in the present! (Like, the first example and the second one have the same influence in the present, because Carla can't play basketball today in these 2 examples)

I've been searching for a while and always says that "it is something that influences the present". But, if I say "She broke her leg yesterday. That's why she can't play" it would have the same meaning. So, that's why I am "confusion".


3 Answers 3

  1. She broke her leg yesterday

This statement tells us when the person's leg got broken.

The emphasis is shifted to a specific point in the past; she is not breaking her leg now, ergo "She is breaking her leg yesterday" is grammatically unsound. Likewise we would not say "She was breaking her leg yesterday" because the action is not an ongoing one. However, it is possible that she might break it again some time in the future, ergo "She is going to break her leg" is an acceptable statement if the speaker was warning the interlocutor of an imminent event that was about to take place in the not distant future.

  1. She has broken her leg

This statement tells us why she cannot play basketball today.

The listener is less interested in knowing when the accident happened, the focus is on the now and present. The sufferer may have broken their leg a day ago, or even two weeks ago, it doesn't matter when, what matters is the person is (still) unable to play. Although the accident is clearly established in the past and cannot be repeated, we are interested in the present consequences of that past event.

The present perfect can be used (it is not obligatory by any means) to answer these types of questions:

  • Why can't she play basketball today? (She's broken her leg.)
  • Why isn't she playing basketball today? (idem)
  • How come Ann's not playing? (idem)
  • How long has it been broken? (It's been broken since yesterday)

The simple past can be used to answer these types of questions

  • What happened? (She broke her leg yesterday.)
  • Why isn't she playing? (idem)
  • When did she break it [her leg]? (idem)
  • How long has it been broken? (She broke it yesterday/less than a day ago)
  • Good comparison with these questions and answers. A response to Why can't she play basketball today? could well be She broke her leg yesterday, but that would indeed be considered a mere response: it is an answer only by extension (= since it's impossible it's healed in just one day, her leg is still broken).
    – user3395
    Jul 26, 2019 at 14:13
  • Dear honorable @Mari-Lou A, I have a question. If the OP added, for instance, "She has broken her leg since yesterday", wouldn't both be the same? :)^^.
    – user17814
    Jul 28, 2019 at 6:10
  • @KentaroTomono it's a possible response. If the question was "How long has it been broken?" (passive voice in this instance sounds better to my ears) the short answer would be "Since yesterday." Active voice:" How long has she had a broken leg?" Same answer: "Since Yesterday"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 28, 2019 at 6:34
  • To the downvoter, if there's an error I'd like to know. If there's something not clear, I can clarify but without a comment I cannot possibly think that this question is not useful and does not show effort.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 1, 2019 at 14:46

The present perfect tense is a present tense. The implied time is "Now". So "She has broken her leg yesterday" is wrong because the verb from means "now" which contradicts "yesterday".

Roughly the present perfect tense evolved from the use of the participle. The participle "broken" means that the grammatical subject receives the results of the action. This is an example of the passive. For example

Broken by the tree, John's leg was very badly hurt.

The subject (John's leg) receives the results of the participle phrase "broken by the tree".

So the present perfect evolved as "She has" (= she owns or she possesses) + "broken" (=the results of breaking). Just as it would be wrong to say "She has a ball yesterday"*, it is incorrect to say "She has broken her leg yesterday".

So it is correct to say

She can't play; she has broken her leg.

And it is correct, but less good, to say:

She can't play; she broke her leg.

It is incorrect to say

She can't play; she has broken her leg yesterday.

While it is completely correct to say

She can't play; she broke her leg yesterday.

  • Why is "She can't play; she broke her leg." less good? That's probably the phrase I'd use as a native speaker (or alternatively, "She's got a broken leg"), but admittedly not super well versed in the strict rules of English.
    – Rob
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:47
  • 1
    Nothing to do with "rules". "She has broken..." is a present tense, so it makes sense to use it when talking about the present (she can't play now). However there is dialectic variation. Americans tend to use the past tense more often, and may correctly prefer the past tense here.
    – James K
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:54
  • 1
    This is rather bad answer, in my opinion. The explanation of present perfect is incomplete, the example of the passive is unnatural and confusing, the whole explanation of how things evolved is irrelevant and hard to follow and the comparison to present simple breaks down when you start looking at other time indicators.
    – Jasper
    Jul 26, 2019 at 7:53
  • 1
    @jasper, the "answer" button is right here.
    – James K
    Jul 26, 2019 at 10:57
  • @JamesK I might write my own answer, depending on a number of factors including if I can find the time. If I don't - or until I do - that does not in any way negate any criticism of your answer...
    – Jasper
    Jul 26, 2019 at 13:53

You can’t use present perfect when you are mentioning when something happened. That is why you cannot use present perfect in the second example.


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