Are there any instances in which the use of "ago" in Present Perfect Simple Tense would be deemed correct? For example:

I've (just) finished reading 5 minutes ago.

From my perspective, the adverbial phrase "five minutes ago" suggests that the action is recent, and, thus, it wouldn't make sense to use past tense simple. What's your opinion on this?

2 Answers 2


One of the main rules of tense usage is that the simple past is used for finished actions and especially also with specific expressions of time/in time that point to a specific occasion.

  • Five minutes ago
  • Ten years ago
  • Last week, month, year, yesterday etc.
  • Specific dates: October 1st, etc.

For example. There is zero continuity of any kind with the simple past.

Without getting into all the complexity of the present perfect, it is much easier to know, generally speaking, when to use the simple past.

Five minutes ago calls for the simple past. All expressions with ago and time (five months ago, etc.) call for simple past.

Of course, you can also use: I've just finished my work, but not with five minutes ago.

I sincerely hope this simple rule is clear. When I say rule, I am not talking about standard or non-standard. Even uneducated native English speakers would not mix these up.

The adverb ago refers to a period of time that is completed and goes from a point in the past up to now. Ago follows expressions of time:

It happened a long time ago.

They arrived in Athens six weeks ago.

Not: They arrived in Athens ago six weeks.

Warning: We normally use ago with the past simple. We don’t use it with the present perfect: [bolding mine]

I received his letter four days ago.

Not: I have received his letter four days ago.

If we refer to a point in time before a specific time in the past, we use before or earlier or previously, often with the past perfect:

We had got their invitation four days before.

They met on the same island where they had met ten years previously.

If we refer to how long something lasted, we use for (not ago):

When I was at school, I studied Russian for five years. (my studies lasted for five years)

Cambridge Dictionary

  • Then can we say "Everyone had gone to bed several hours earlier(ago). ?
    – Serg
    Nov 25, 2022 at 21:40
  • @Serg Nope, ago is used only with the simple past.
    – Lambie
    Nov 25, 2022 at 21:44
  • Still, can it be used with the Past Perfect?
    – Serg
    Nov 26, 2022 at 6:22
  • @Serg The only comment I have for you is: OMG. They left 30 minutes ago. He said they had left 30 minutes earlier Capisce?
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2022 at 16:25

If you have been told that recency is incompatible with past simple, you have been told wrong.

I finished it five minutes ago

is perfectly grammatical and normal.

I find

I've finished it five minutes ago

to be less natural, though still possible.

The significance of a perfect construction is present relevance: recency is one manifestation of that, but not the only one.

In most cases, the choice of whether to use a perfect construction or not is not constrained by the objective circumstances (eg by whether an action is recent or not), but is a choice that the speaker can freely make in how they wish to present the temporal relationships. If the speaker uses a present perfect, they are choosing to represent the events described as having a present relevance; if they use a simple past, they are choosing to represent the events as completed.

But some expressions of time influence this choice. In British English, just used to strongly prefer the perfect to the simple past (when I was young I just saw him was an Americanism, and we would say I've just seen him; though I think both possibilities are available now). And to my ear ago prefers a simple past, though it doesn't rule out a perfect.

  • Are you sure? I think five minutes ago anchors the action firmly in the past. You finished it 5 minutes ago. If you accept I've finished it five minutes ago, you also accept I've finished it at 8.04.
    – user3395
    Nov 9, 2019 at 19:09
  • Don't blame the messenger: "Warning: We normally use ago with the past simple. We don’t use it with the present perfect" dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/agohttps://… This is a British dictionary and a definition for British English though the same is true for American English.
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2022 at 16:21

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