Where have you bought it?

Where have you spent your holidays?

Why should it be Past Simple? Present Perfect looks alright to me. Although for some reason reference books suggest that when you go into details you should use Past Simple.. Logically, it should be only when somebody asks "when". You can't use Present Perfect here, but why can't we use it with mentioned above?

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    The present perfect is often used of a recently completed action. I can imagine two friends meeting, perhaps at university after the long summer vacation and one asking the other "Where have you spent (not spend) the holidays?" – Kate Bunting Jun 6 at 11:52

"Where have you spent your holidays?" doesn't give me the sense that the holidays are necessarily finished, but "Where did you spend your holidays?" does. There is also a possibility with the first question that it is about several recent holidays, and not just the most recently finished ones.

On the other hand, if you wanted to imply that the holidays were repeated or ongoing you might ask "Where have you been spending your holidays?"

The question "Where have you spent your holidays" is still correct, whether the question is about the recently finished holidays or the ongoing holidays, but some context needs to be applied to know which is meant.

"Where have you bought printer toner?" on the other hand is asking for a list of suppliers.

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  • Great point, but can't we consider using Present Perfect here because we're just talking about experience, like in the sentence "I've been to the USA". Meaning, it doesn't have any connection to the present. – Ceejay Jun 6 at 12:46

What looks "logical" to you has nothing to do with English grammar. If your native language is one where the present perfect is the usual way to refer to past events, the way English uses the present perfect will be difficult to grasp.

The basic way to refer to past events in English is to use the simple past. That is the logic of English tenses. As I have discussed with you in other questions, the present perfect in English is used to express certain nuances, primarily related to recency and current relevance of events that were completed in the past. Seldom if ever is the present perfect mandatory; in those cases where it is permissible, you may frequently use the simple past instead. The role of the present perfect in English is entirely different from its role in French, German, Latin, and Spanish.

I cannot immediately imagine a context in which

Where have you bought it

would be grammatical. The focus of the question is on place, and the timing of the purchase has no relevance whatsoever. The simple past is mandatory.

Where did you buy it

is correct.

Where have you been

is permissible if what is meant is where have you been recently. Here recency IS relevant because, not being a vegetable, you presumably have been a great many places over time. Consequently, without a time marker, the question is vague. But you could grammatically say

"Where were you

without a time marker, and recency would be implied. You do not need the present perfect to indicate mere recency. The primary situation where the present perfect may be mandatory is when a relatively recent event is the cause of something that is currently relevant.

Now your example about spending holidays is very complex, in part because "holidays" has multiple meanings. Let's substitute "vacation."

Where have you taken your vacations

is grammatical as is

Where did you take your vacation

but they are subtly different in meaning. The first is asking for a list of places. It is not primarily talking about a completed event so much as talking about a series of events that have occurred in the past and will likely recur in the future. The second is asking about a single event that is definitely past.

I understand if you find obscure when it is permissible to use the present perfect in English. If you remember that using the present perfect is seldom mandatory in English and that the simple past is almost always permissible, your life will become easier.

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  • "Where have you bought it?" is often pretty much equivalent to "which suppliers have you used?" – Peter Jun 6 at 13:03
  • "If your native language is one where the present perfect is the usual way to refer to past events" I was saying the opposite, wasn't I? – Ceejay Jun 6 at 13:11
  • Also "Where have you bought it? - The focus of the question is on place, and the timing of the purchase has no relevance whatsoever. The simple past is mandatory." Isn't the Past Simple mandatory EXACTLY in the opposite situation - when the timing of the purchase DOES have relevance. We use the Present Perfect when the timing does NOT matter. – Ceejay Jun 6 at 13:15
  • No, we do not use the present perfect when the timing does not matter. One of the situations where we use the present perfect is when the the timing was relatively recent and relatively unspecified. One of the other situations where we use the present perfect is when the timing is unspecified but the current consequences are relevant. Specificity of time precludes the present perfect. Lack of specificity does not mandate the present perfect. "Where did you buy it" is the only correct form despite the lack of specificity. – Jeff Morrow Jun 6 at 13:52

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