I am totally confused where to use which.

We were told in university and at school that past tense is used for repeated actions in the past while present perfect is for a just completed action.

But the native speakers never say "I worked here", they say "I used to work here".

They also never say "I have uploaded/converted the file for you", they say "I uploaded the file for you". I fact, I virtually never see present perfect used by native speakers.

Can anybody please clarify?

  • Are those native speakers American? I (as an older British English speaker) would say 'I have uploaded' if I had recently finished doing so. Dec 1, 2020 at 8:38
  • Present perfect is less common in spoken English (in contrast to German when present perfect is more usual than simple past), but it might still be used to emphasis completion ("I've finished now"). In less formal English there isn't as hard and fast a division between tenses and aspects as when English is taught as a foreign language. The construction "I used to work here" has a specific meaning, and is used when an action was prolonged but eventually came to an end: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/used-to
    – Stuart F
    Dec 1, 2020 at 11:08

1 Answer 1


Your first problem is believing that there is a Present Perfect Tense. There isn't.

There is Present tense and Past tense. You already know about those. No more tenses in English.

There are, however, many, many, many Constructions in English. The Perfect Construction is one such.

The perfect is used differently with different kinds of predicates. With states it refers to their duration from some point in the past to some later time. If that later time is now, you use Present perfect; if it's in the past, you use Past perfect.

  • Mary lived there from 1970 to 1980, when she moved here.
  • Mary has lived here since 1980.
  • Mary had lived there before she moved here.

Notice that simple past tense is the norm, whenever possible. Perfect constructions are for special situations like past perfect for trying to tell a backstory, and McCawley's list of the four uses of the Present Perfect for different kinds of predicates and contexts:

  • (a) The Universal sense of the Present Perfect, used to indicate that a state of affairs prevailed throughout some interval stretching from the past into the present
    I've known Max since 1960.
  • (b) The Existential sense of the Present Perfect, used to indicate the existence of past events,
    I have read Principia Mathematica five times.
  • (c) The Stative/Resultative sense of the Present Perfect,
    used to indicate that the direct effect of a past event still continues
    I can't come to your party tonight - I've caught the flu.
  • (d) The Hot News sense of the Present Perfect, used to report hot news
    Malcolm X has just been assassinated.

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