I learned that we should use present perfect while talking about things which happened in the past, but which still hold. However, it sounds weird when I think about using "I have lost my bag" when I tell a police officer about the missing bag. I feel "I lost my bag" is more appropriate.

I feel that using present perfect gives an impression that I have come to terms with the loss. Can someone enlighten me on this?

  • 2
    "I feel that using present perfect gives an impression that I have come to terms with the loss." As an American, quite the opposite; it might be very different in UK English.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 2:31

4 Answers 4


Either one is acceptable. From the questions on this site, I have the impression that a lot of ELL students think that for any given situation, there is only one appropriate English tense. This isn't even close to being true.

The present perfect,

I have lost my bag,

does not give an impression that you have come to terms with the loss.

If you have just discovered your loss, you are probably more likely to use the present perfect (and if you've just discovered it, you haven't had any time to come to terms with it).

If you are talking about a specific past time frame, you would use the simple past. For example, you might say:

I lost my bag in the train station this morning.

But much of the time, either the simple past or the present perfect would be appropriate in this situation.

  • 2
    Totally agreed about ELL peeps' perspective. Some of that is driven by a mathematical approach to language (only one solution for "x") which never ends well. I remember a Q where the non-native was arguing with 4 native speakers that she was right. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 14:40
  • Thank you @Peter Shor. I wanted to confirm if both are acceptable sentences. I got my answer. I had this false impression because in my native language(a Dravidian languaege), it has that sort of interpretation. Thanks for all the replies :)
    – Vini
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 16:05
  • 1
    Yes, I have also noticed that many ELL answers try to explain extremely subtle differences in cases where I hadn't really thought there was any difference at all! And I don't comment on those, because perhaps there are unconscious preferences I'm just ignorant of - in German they call those Sprachgefühl, "language feeling". Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 9:36
  • Just now I tried to write a meta question about that, but I am bad at writing meta questions. Perhaps someone else will decide to. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 13:43
  • Of course, either one is acceptable. However, they are not used interchangeably. And that's the hard part. We have tons of explanations on this ELL site about the pragmatics of this.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 15:07

“I have lost my bag.”, informs the hearer about your present state, informed by a past event. That is what you want to say to the police — I am here because I am {in the state of} {having lost my bag}. You want the police to do {the thing that they do for people who have lost something}.

If you say to a police-person in the street, “I lost my bag.”, then they have to work out whether you want them to look for it nearby, or write up a report. That is why you do not say to the police-person, at the police station, “I lost my bag.”; it is not exactly the right expression, because it is about the past event, not the present state.

  • The gender neutral term is “police officer” not “police-person”. Similarly it is “mail carrier”, not “mail-person”, and senator or representative instead of “congress-person”.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:08
  • @ColleenV Congressperson (without "-") is a thing (but usually only referring to a Representative in US context).
    – xngtng
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 13:19
  • @xngtng If you're referring to a specific representative or senator, you should refer to them by their title, not as "Congressperson". Yes, "congressperson" is something some people use, but it's an indicator of poor writing in my opinion. You shouldn't tell people to "contact their congressperson". In the US we have a representative and an senator representing us, not "a congressperson". If you're referring to someone who is either a representative or senator, that's a "member of Congress".
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 13:42
  • @user3067860 They aren't wrong, they just write poorly.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 16:27

Extending on the answer, that either form is acceptable...

I feel that using present perfect gives an impression that I have come to terms with the loss

Neither (acceptable) form implies that you have come to terms with the loss.

I hope you find your bag!

  • 1
    Isn't the example hypothetical? Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:31
  • I could imagine, it's not necessarily hypothetical: Someone could have come to terms with their loss, but still benefit from reporting, for legal or insurance reasons.
    – cellepo
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 22:42

'I've lost my bag' sounds a lot more natural than 'I lost my bag' as an introduction to the topic.

If there is more definition of the circumstances, the past simple becomes the natural choice: 'I lost my bag when we were driving round the Ring of Kerry today, but I don't know exactly where.'

  • 2
    "sounds a lot more natural". Only sometimes, as @PeterShor's answer perfectly explains.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 2:28
  • Doesn't 'as an introduction to the topic' entail 'only sometimes'? Your first words to the person you address won't be "Hello. I lost my bag." An explanation, please. Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 12:58

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