I was wondering about past simple and present perfect lately. It was a long path of understanding these 2 tenses, I think I finally understand the meaning of "context" that can occur or not.

When there is a context (last year, since, for) then the sentence has a certain tense. But without it I can only judge it in my own perspective, for example:

  • I borrowed it from my friend (emphasizing the past action of borrowing in the past, even if he/she shows in the present this particular item he/she is going to use or something, still he/she is relating to past action)

  • I've borrowed it from my friend (emphasizing the present situation as well as mentioning the past action he/she did but is still relating the present situation that he/she is having this item and he/she can use it.)

I don't know if my thoughts are reliable, but I'm summaring the whole knowlage I've gained till now (I don't know if "till now" is grammatically correct, if not then I'm sorry) I want to use this summary (of course if it's correct) as a message for those who doesn't understand the difference without the context like (for, since, last year, etc.)

What do you think about it? Oh and I want to ask you a favor as well. What do you guys think about the grammatical side of my "small thought"?

PS. There are also some verbs that doesn't suit my thoughts for example "I promised" it's more a past action that the promise was stated, but if I have to think about it in the present perfect version, then I could say that "I've promised" can state that what he is doing right now is because of this promise. But I think that some verbs doesn't suit it.

PS 2. Im refering here only about no context situations, there are some rules about that but aren't clear when it says about "result", it more likely means that can be used interchanable depending on what do we want to emphasis. What do you think about what I wrote here ?

  • I would the answear like "you are kind a right but .." or "no because" – user331990 Mar 19 '20 at 17:18
  • 1
    Yes, you're "right". We usually use Present Perfect (I've / I have borrowed it) rather than Simple Past (I borrowed it) to amplify the "relevance to time of utterance". But I'd say by far the most important thing for most learners to take on board is that we don't usually need it at all (so don't overuse it). There are many contexts where you could say I've borrowed it, but almost none where it wouldn't be just as natural to say I borrowed it. So I recommend the KISS principle. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '20 at 17:26
  • I want to translate my book from polish to english and that's why I'm focused on these 2 tenses. I just don't want to make mistake. It's good to know that I can use them interchangable, I have one more question, does my interpretation seems ok? I'm trying to understand sometimes why some characters use in their sentence one tense instead of another. – user331990 Mar 19 '20 at 17:37
  • You could say "I borrowed it" if it has since been returned, but "I have borrowed it" definitely implies that you still have it. – Kate Bunting Mar 19 '20 at 17:49
  • I don't know if Polish has anything that you might think of as "equivalent" to Present Perfect in English. But if there is some such equivalent, I think you'll probably find that you don't want to keep repeating it so often in your English translation. Native Anglophones in general don't use complex tense forms anywhere near as often as many learners seem to think we could. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '20 at 17:50

I think your understanding is reasonably close to correct, but it may be stated in a slightly more complicated way than is necessary. I would summarize the difference between these two tenses (in general) as:

Simple Past Tense

The simple past is the most neutral form. It just says that something occurred in the past, and doesn't say anything else (about the present, or about other past things, etc). It can be used almost anywhere any other past-implying verb tense is used. The other verb tenses just supply additional information as well:

I made the bed.

I did the action at some point in the past. The bed may still be that way, or somebody may have messed it up after I made it, who knows?

I borrowed the book.

The book was borrowed at some point in the past, but I might still have it now, or I might have returned it already.

I promised her I'd do it.

I made the promise in the past. I may have already completed that promise, or I may have decided to break my promise, or maybe I will still do it.

Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect says that something occurred in the past, just like the simple past does, but additionally it also says that what happened in the past has resulted in some state that is now true in the present.

I have made the bed.

This implies that not only did I make the bed in the past, but that because I made the bed, it is still in a "made" state now (it hasn't been messed up yet).

I have borrowed the book.

I borrowed the book, and I still have it now.

I have promised her I would do it.

This says that because I promised her in the past, I am right now in the state of "having promised", which means I still consider myself bound to that promise and it's something I still need to complete or make good on in the present.

Past Perfect Tense

You didn't ask about this, but I'm including it because the past perfect is essentially the opposite effect to the present perfect. It implies that something happened in the past, but then between then and now something else happened (or may have happened), which made that state no longer true in the present anymore:

I had made the bed.

This suggests "but then something else happened and it got messed up", or perhaps just "but it's quite possible it's no longer made."

I had borrowed the book.

I borrowed it, but I don't have it any more.

I had promised her I'd do it.

I made the promise in the past, but I'm no longer bound by that promise now. It may be that I completed it, or it may be that I failed to do it, or it may be that things changed so it was no longer needed, but whatever happened, it's all in the past now. All of these forms essentially have an implied "but" at the end of them, so without any other context, some things like "I had promised" do often have a bit of a negative feel to them, implying perhaps that "I had promised, but then I failed to do it."

(Note, though, that the past perfect is also sometimes used just to emphasize that something happened before some other past point in time (which is the focus of the sentence). If there are other past-tense verbs involved which talk about some previous point in time, then the use of past perfect may not necessarily imply anything about the present state, it may just be used for ordering past events, instead.)

So, boiled down to its most simple form:

  • past perfect ("I had borrowed") -- It happened in the past, but it's no longer true now.
  • simple past ("I borrowed") -- It happened in the past. (that's all it says)
  • present perfect ("I have borrowed") -- It happened in the past, and it is still true now.

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