I understand there is no hard and fast rule about grammar rules or a single best way to learn grammar.

As a non-native speaker, I struggle with learning English grammar. I read books on English grammar, phrasal verbs and I watch videos for kids to learn basic English sentence structure. I am still struggling with grammar.

I wonder do native speakers instinctively notice the use of tenses in conversations? For e.g. when someone says

"I ate" vs "I have eaten".
"I watch" vs "I watched / I have watched".
"She is here", "She was here".
"I come home" vs "I came home".
"I know what I was drawing" vs "I know what I drew". "I'm struggling to learn grammar" vs "I've been struggling to learn grammar"

Do native speakers interpret them literally?

  • 1
    Do you notice the differences in tenses in your own language? The only reason anybody in the world uses different tenses is because they convey different meanings
    – gotube
    Jul 2 at 6:39
  • Lol. Yes, English speakers notice and care about tense. Uh yes, they take them literally. There is a world of difference between the present and the past. Why do you think that English speakers don’t notice or care about tenses? Jul 2 at 12:43
  • @gotube Does every language have tenses like English? Jul 4 at 6:27
  • 1
    No, many languages don't have tense. Most well known is Mandarin. Other languages have tense, but different tense from English. French has a perfect and imperfect past tenses, but they aren't used the same way as English perfect and past tense.
    – James K
    Jul 4 at 7:28

Yes, speakers do notice tense. It is a fundamental part of grammar and the tense is "understood" when it carries meaning.

On the other hand, there are many contexts in which there are several tenses that are possible with very little difference in meaning. "I've already eaten" and "I already ate" are very close, with the former being more common in British English, and the latter in American.

But "She is here" and "She was here" simply mean different things. They are as different as "cat" and "dog".


When we learn our first language as children, our brains are still forming, so we don’t need to be as aware of the details. We just learn what sounds right and what works for us. I grew up around quite a few illiterate people and am very aware of when they use words incorrectly. I’ve been learning Spanish for years. It’s in the same language group as English, but it is still very difficult to learn all of the new grammar.

Grammar is very important for being able to accurately express yourself though. “I have eaten fries” implies that I’ve had fries at some unknown point in my past, whereas “I ate fries” implies I ate them at a specific time in the past. It’s an important detail based on the context of the conversation. If someone asked me what I ate today, my response would be different than if someone asked me if I have tried food from a specific restaurant.

The last one is interesting though. “I’m” implies it’s happening in the present moment while “I’ve been” implies both the recent past and present moment. While both are acceptable, the second one is technically the most correct. There are plenty of unspoken exceptions like this that you’d only learn from immersion.

Your English writing looks very good!

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