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When we want to convey a general event that happens earlier, which tense should I use: simple past or present perfect?

Here are some examples I came up with (I am not sure the examples are correct):

(1) If your kid swallowed / has swallowed the toy, you have to call the ambulance immediately.

(2) If you find your kid swallowed / has swallowed the toy, you have to call the ambulance immediately.

(3) If a person did / has done something nice to you, you have to say thank you.

(4) When a person didn't sleep / hasn't slept enough, she can be mad easily during the day.

(5) When you finished / have finished a meal, you have to wash your hands.

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  • I would use the past perfect in all those cases. – Kate Bunting Aug 3 '20 at 13:30
  • Sorry, my mistakes. What you mean is present perfect, right? – vincentlin Aug 3 '20 at 13:32
  • Yes, I carelessly copied your error without thinking. Present perfect. – Kate Bunting Aug 3 '20 at 13:37
  • I saw present perfect used in the type of structure like my examples frequently, and I don't remember seeing simple past used. Could you explain why you choose present perfect? Is there a logic behind it? – vincentlin Aug 3 '20 at 13:42
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    Because the past actions all have an effect on the present. The toy is stuck in the child's gullet, the sleepless night affects the woman's mood the next day, the meal has just finished... – Kate Bunting Aug 3 '20 at 14:00
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Normal usage:

    • If a person does something nice for you, you have to say thank you. [in general, a simple present is used]
    • If a person did something nice for you [specific act at a specific moment in the past], you have to say thank you. [a specific act in the past even if the date or time is not given]
    • If a person has done something nice for you [in the past at the time of speaking but without referring to when the person did it], you have to say thank you. [a non-specific time in the past, but, this occurs in a non-specific past]

The difference between 2 and 3 is this:

  • 2 refers to a specific time or moment in the past in relation to the present.
  • 3 refers to a time in the past, the specificity of which is not important; what is important is that it is merely at some past time at the time of speaking in the present.

The use of 2 or 3 is dictated by what the speaker wants to say, nothing else.

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  • "a specific act in the past even if the date or time is not given" refers to the if-clause that contains "did" or the main clause? "a non-specific time in the past, but, this occurs in a non-specific past" refers to the if-clause that contains "has done" or the main clause? Sorry, so many questions because it doesn't make sense if they refer to the main clauses. Just to be cautious here. Your explanation is super helpful :) – vincentlin Aug 3 '20 at 16:00
  • I don't intend to start another slanging match, but one of the uses of the present perfect is as described here, No. 4, which seems to me to fit all the examples given. – Kate Bunting Aug 3 '20 at 16:19
  • @vincentlin No, not the clause that contains did. did=specific event///**has done**=non-specific time in the past at the time of speaking in the present//Have you done your homework? [non-specified time of occurrence]//Did you do your homework? [specific: today, tonight, this evening, etc.] – Lambie Aug 3 '20 at 16:46
  • @KateBunting That link's no. 4 point is this: "4: A finished action with a result in the present (focus on result). We often use the present perfect to talk about something that happened in the recent past, but that is still true or important now. Sometimes we can use the past simple here, especially in US English." I choose to inform the OP that the specific time is not given with the present perfect, which that link person does not do. It is in the past at the time of speaking but the actual time or date of the occurrence is not specified. – Lambie Aug 3 '20 at 16:50
  • @vincentlin I am only referring to the clauses with the verb tenses we are discussing. So, here the if or when clauses. – Lambie Aug 3 '20 at 16:52

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