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My student said "My sister has lived in China", and of course I thought she still lived there, but then he said "but now she lives in England".

I replied, "But you said she has lived in China, which means she still lives there", to which he replied, "Well, I was just talking about her experience, she indeed lived in China some time back, now she doesn't, but that's her experience, that's why I used Present Perfect".

And honestly I'm a little confused. Does it make sense?

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    'She has lived in China since 2015' would mean that she still lives there. On its own, 'She has lived in China' just means that she was resident there at some period of her life. – Kate Bunting Apr 27 '20 at 15:17
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Your student is correct. The general sense of present perfect is "present state resulting from actions in the past". It can be used to talk about experiences.

If you went to Japan and saw Mount Fuji, you could come home and say

I have seen Mt Fuji.

It does not mean that the act of seeing the mountain continues until the present. It does mean that the experience of seeing the mountain is a present experience. You could still say "I have seen Mt Fuji" 70 years later when you are an old person. You still have the experience.

So "My sister has lived in China" means

My sister has the experience of living in China.

It suggests that the sister doesn't live in China now, otherwise you'd say "My sister lives in China".

Your student could have said "My sister lived in China until 2015". The past tense is possible but not required. Moreover if you say "My sister has lived in China since 2015" that does mean until the present time. The phrase "since 2015" changes the meaning greatly.

There is an implication "My sister has lived in China" suggests that this is a special experience that she has. It would be somewhat odd to say of a native Chinese person that they "have lived" in China.

So your student is broadly correct.

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The word "has" in the sentence "my sister has lived in China" would be coming for emphasis.

Compare:

Q: Have you done XYZ? A: Yes, I have done XYZ.

how come in the answer it didn't just say "Yes I did XYZ"? What did the word 'have' add? It's emphasizing what was done, in a situation where there's a question about it.

Likewise, in the sentence "She has lived in China, but now she lives in England" the word "has" comes to emphasize that she did live there. This is most common and appropriate when there was a statement earlier in the conversation which would imply that she wasn't there, or that she was still there.

Thus the sentence: "She had lived there, but doesn't anymore" establishes that she did indeed live there, and that while she did live there, she doesn't anymore. It gives that emphasis.

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  • We certainly can reply, "we did", for the question you gave as an example in the beginning. – Dhanishtha Ghosh Sep 26 '20 at 15:47

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