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I have really been struggling with past simple and present perfect exercises today.

what I know is mostly:

  • simple past is used for finished actions made in the past and not related to the present and actions which took place long time ago (ex. last year).
  • Present perfect can be referred to past actions, but also recent actions and/or both relating in some way to the present.

Let's take as example the phrase:

I didn't read the book but I.... (see) the film when it ....(come) out in 1995.

I would say "have seen the film" but it kind conflicts with the date 1995.

Also how do you choose the right tense when saying

I don't know which films she ... (make)"

it could be 'made' because it happened in the past and the action is already finished but it could be also 'has made' in my opinion because it is an experience of life. this is mostly what gets me confused.

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    Hello Nadia, I've voted to close, because you aren't asking a specfic question about English, but asking us to check your work. What is confusing for you in this exercise? Can you take one point and ask about it, instead of asking us to find the mistakes. – James K Mar 20 at 17:19
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    Make sure also to tell us what you know about the present perfect and past tense. And why you gave the answer you did. – James K Mar 20 at 17:20
  • Hi James, so standing on what i know which is mostly: simple past is used for finished actions made in the past and not related to the present and actions which took place long time ago (ex. last year). Present perfect can be referred to past actions, but also recent actions and or both relating in some way to the present. Let's take as example the 3rd phrase: i would say "have seen a film" but it kind conflicts with the date 1995. – nadia Mar 20 at 17:22
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    Okay. What I've done is made an on topic question for you. :-) You make one very common error. You use "i" instead of "I". Use the edit button to fix this in your question. and to fix anything else. – James K Mar 20 at 17:41
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    See also ell.stackexchange.com/questions/11723/… – James K Mar 20 at 17:53
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The first and most simple rule is

If there is a time phrase like "in 1995" or "yesterday" or "five minutes ago" you must use the past tense and not the present perfect.

This makes it clear that in the example (see) and (come) should be saw and came, since they both occurred in 1995

If there is no time phrase, you are often free to choose the tense that has the right meaning. In the second example you are really talking about your present state of knowledge (or lack of knowledge). You are talking about films she has made until now. This means you would probably use the present perfect "I don't know which films she has made".

There are many situations in which both tenses are correct. British speakers are more likely to choose a perfect tense than American speakers. But overall past tense is more common than present perfect in both the UK and USA.

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  • Alright, thank you this makes it a bit easier for me. So if I got it right, in this example question: Who ... you (write) to? answer: everyone but nobody has replied. - given that in the answer it is used perfect tense it should suppose to be a recent event their talking about and therefore I shoul say *who have you written to (since you started)? does it make any sense? – nadia Mar 20 at 18:21
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I don't know which films she ... (make)

it could be 'made' because it happened in the past and the action is already finished but it could be also 'has made' in my opinion because it is an experience of life. this is mostly what gets me confused.

Both work, but they have slightly different meanings. The simple past has more of a sense of finality. If someone is dead, we would say they made five films, because they obviously won’t be making any more. We could say the same of the living too, of course, but to say they have made five films implies we expect them to make more in the future.

In general, we prefer simple tenses over perfect ones, so always try a simple tense first and see if that gives the desired meaning before trying a perfect one.

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  • Thank you very much StephenS, i was thinking this as well. Would you mind help me with one more thing? – nadia Mar 20 at 20:59
  • Regarding this question: "Who ... you (write) to?" given that the answer is: "everyone, but nobody has replied!" i would think that they're talking about a recent event and therefore I would say who have you written to (since you started)? but it doesn't sound right! does it make any sense to you? – nadia Mar 20 at 21:09
  • @nadia Both tenses work in that example too, but the simple past sounds better to me. Unless you might write to more people in the future, and then you need the present perfect. Same as in my answer. – StephenS Mar 20 at 21:12
  • Oh, great! thank you, that really really helped! – nadia Mar 20 at 21:17

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