I've been reading this question. I have also been reading this pdf. From these two sources it appears that there is no difference between Present-perfect-tense and Simple-past-tense.

I myself thought up two sentences:

  1. The children played in the sandbox.
  2. The children have played in the sandbox.

The only difference that I am able to recognize is that in the 2nd sentence we are putting some emphasis on the fact that children (have) finished the play. If I translate "have" into my language then it is giving the emphasis that children finished the job. On the other hand the 1st sentence is just telling that children played there some time ago. The 1st sentence is giving no emphasis on the fact that they have finished the play.

Please explain me what is the difference between Present-perfect-tense and Simple-past-tense.


3 Answers 3


Context, context, context!

Briefly: the simple past is used to narrate past events. The present perfect is used to mention past events which give rise to a present state which is of present interest.

The children played in the sandbox for a while, then moved to the swings. At four o'clock their mother called them inside because it looked like rain.

The children have played in the sandbox and left their toys there. Tell them to go bring their toys inside.

However, the second could also be expressed with a simple past, and would probably be expressed with a past progressive. Play is an activity verb, which doesn't accommodate the perfect all that well. This example, with a telic verb (one which has a distinct change of state in its meaning) may be more instructive.

The children finished their chores, then went outside to play until their mother called them in.

The children have finished their chores; I am going to let them go outside and play now.


Such short sentences are not appropriate to give an understanding of the different use of simple Past and simple Perfect.

Sentence 1, Past. This would be the normal thing. You think of yesterday, or any other time in the past.

Sentence 2, simple Perfect Simple perfect is used forr news, for information given to another person because it is important news, as in - Mother, an accident has happened. Call the police.

Simple Perfect is also used for facts. The time when it was is not important, but the fact as in - Professor to a student in an examination: Have yor read Macbeth? Can we talk about it ? -- Student: Yes I have.

A sentence as "The children have played in the sand box" is hardly some important news for another person. And as fact it is trivial. So if you want to study the use of tenses, especially simple Past and simple Perfect you have to study sentences of real situations as you can find them in novels.


The Present Perfect can express UNFINISH actions.

I have lived in Caracas for seven years (= I still live there)

The Past Simple expresses COMPLETED actions.

I lived in Caracas for seven years (= Now I live somewhere else)

That's mean;

The children played in the sandbox. - yesterday/last week/two days ago/an hour ago...etc (= they played in the past)

The children have played in the sandbox. - for a long time/before/recently/during all morning...etc (= they still play or use to play in indefinite time.)

CAREFUL! Present Perfect can express an experience that happened at some time in one's life. The action is finished, but the effects of the action are still felt.

Have you ever had an operation? (=at any time in your life)

And can express past actions that has a present result.

The taxi hasn't arrived yet (= We're still waiting for it)

In fact, many languages express this idea with a Present Tense but in English this is wrong.

  • Do you mean that The children have played in the sandbox implies children might be playing at present? 2) Some native speaker have told me that sentence of type I have lived in Caracas for seven years doesn't convey whether I live in Caracas at present or not.
    – user31782
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 11:16
  • @user31782 1)The grammatical structure is Present Perfect. It means: it works in Present tense. If I say you; I have eaten chocolate since I was a child. I'm telling you: that I love chocolate since I can remember. I didn't eat chocolate from three days ago even though I usually eat it because the chocolate and I have had an eternal romance... In your example, the children use to play in the sandbox. 2) I'm not native English speaker, before I answered any question I think carefully because if I can explain something well, I'm sure I've improved myself an my English. Thank you. Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 5:17
  • What is the meaning of "children use to play in the sandbox"?
    – user31782
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 7:11
  • Use to (present tense)/used to (past tense) indicates an action or habit which continued for some period of time in the past but eventually ended. Example: I used to go the cinema twice a week five years ago. (I had a habit to go the cinema, but now I don't go.) Example: I don't use to drink sparkling. (I prefer tea.) I use to eat brown bread during dinner. Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 19:32
  • Eva, use to is not used to express a habitual action. User Stony B(native English speaker) told me this.(link). I am still confused about present perfect tense. I remember a native speaker told me that "I have lived in Caracas for seven years" doesn't tell whether I live there at present or not. HE/she deleted their post for some reason then.
    – user31782
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 7:08

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