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A recent exchange between a student and I:

ME: I have found a technique for doing ….
HER: How have you found it? 


Why not ask, “How have you found it?” Why is the simple past tense correct, and not the present perfect tense? It seems to me that, as a general rule, a statement and response use the same tense. Why not in this case? I realize that this is something that happened in the past, and so the simple past tense makes sense for the question. Maybe then, I should ask why the simple past tense would be used for the statement.

On a broader note, where can I learn about nuanced details of the use of tenses? I often know my own thoughts and feelings about how I’d use this tense or that tense in any given situation. But what I’d like to know is why native speakers in general would use tenses in one way or another - reasons that are not found in textbooks. For example, someone recently answered a question I posed about tense. The answer was that ‘native speakers generally prefer to ….’ This isn’t something you’ll find in a textbook, and, this answer never occurred to me. This is the sort of thing that I want to be able to say when a student confounds me with a question about tenses. Maybe there’s no such book because it’d be impossible to compile such information.

  • I spent a lot of time on my answer. Just so you know... – Lambie Oct 23 '19 at 18:33
  • :) Now I know :) Your answer is superb. I'm saying just so you know ;) I'm well aware that the simple past is used when referring to a specific time in the past. What didn't occur to me is that this change of tenses would occur in order to get specific information. – troysantos Oct 24 '19 at 8:05
  • So please allow me to ask how you know this. Do you have a book, or do you simply have years of experience from thinking about language use, studying it, etc? Though I'm happy to have this forum to ask these questions to, I'd prefer to have that knowledge handy, perhaps a book, though it's likely that no such book exists. – troysantos Oct 24 '19 at 8:11
  • I taught English for years. Most good textbooks explain this shift in tense as part of their explanations about the present perfect. Here is just one example from a website that gives several examples of the shift from present perfect to simple past: greenwichcollege.edu.au/latest-news-blog/present-perfect-tense I find it odd that your English is so good and that you have not found this yourself. It is really everywhere. – Lambie Oct 24 '19 at 15:53
  • Thanks much ... I appreciate this explanation, both the part about how you got so much depth into the use of English, and, for the link. It does indeed explain what you explained :) I myself have only thought about it a lot, observed my thoughts and feelings about how I use it (and inferred about how others might use it based on my feelings), and studied here and there throughout the years. Have a good day :) – troysantos Oct 26 '19 at 12:48
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Teacher: I have recently found x.

is similar, tense-wise, to:

  • I have recently traveled so much.

The response would probably be something like:

  • Oh really? When did you last travel?

The simple past is used by the second speaker because he or she wants more specific information about a specific instance in the past.

The point is this: The present perfect sometimes just signals the fact something occurred in the past and does not specify when. If the person responding to the statement made with the present perfect wants a specific time for the action, that person would switch to the simple past.

Another example where this is not the case, where there is no reason to change the tense:

Mary: "We've had problems with those students."
John: "Have you had problems with all of them or just some of them?"

In that example, John is not looking for more information about when these problems started occurring ("When did they start?"); he is looking to find out to whom the statement applies: all the students or some of them. He has no reason to switch tenses.

Any well-taught course on the present perfect will include an explanation of this kind. In fact, you can't teach the present perfect properly without pointing out these two facts.

The most likely response to "I have recently found a technique for etc." would probably seek to know when or how the technique was found. Therefore, it would be logical to use the simple past.

"Really? When did you find it?" or: "How did you find it?"

I hope that helps to clarify this issue. "How have you found it?" is not wrong grammatically at all. It is contextually off. Because the technique was found at some point that is specific in time, unless of course, one wants to say: "Oh, I've found it rather recently. Isn't it great?" But, really, that is not as likely a response.

The link I give below is Australian. That shows that many aspects of English are exactly the same across all standard varieties of it.

shift from present perfect to simple past

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