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This is from a newspaper:

Have you radically changed your dress sense in later life?

We would like to hear from people who have changed their dress style dramatically.

Did you undergo a style revolution in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond?

My question is why the present perfect is used in the first two sentences, but the past simple in the third?

Is it a stylistic choice?

2 Answers 2

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The present perfect is useful to ask questions where there is a connection between the event in the past and the current state.

In this case you can understand that the first two questions are asking "Is your dress sense now, different to how it was in the past?" The connection to the present is clear.

But the last question introduces the phrase "In your 30s, 40s..." That places the question as a question about a particular time in the past. So the past tense is natural.

Compare with this dialogue:

Have you eaten recently?

Yes

When did you eat?

The first question is really "Are you hungry now", and the connection to the present makes "have you eaten" natural, even though the phrase "recently" refers to a past time. The second question is about the past. Tense is chosen appropriately.

Similarly "in later life" keeps the connection to the present. Whereas "in your 30s" makes it a question about the past.

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  • I thought that "in later life" is a particular time also.
    – anouk
    Feb 5, 2022 at 11:56
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    Well, it is, but it's the most recent period of an older person's life and therefore relevant to the present time. Feb 5, 2022 at 12:40
  • @Kate Bunting so what is the difference between "later in life" and "in your 30s, 40s"? would the past simple be a possibility in the "later in life" sentence?
    – anouk
    Feb 5, 2022 at 13:42
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    perhaps, but the question is from a newspaper, and the author doesn't know the identity of the reader, so can't assume that they are all in their 30s.
    – James K
    Feb 5, 2022 at 14:05
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    This isn't a 'rule' - as you say, it's a stylistic choice. The author no doubt imagines some readers thinking "Yes, I changed my style when I was [in a particular age group]" or "Yes, I have changed my style recently/since I was [a particular age]." Feb 5, 2022 at 16:22
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I don’t think so.

The first two sentences emphasise the change, whether you have changed your dress style.

The third one, on the other hand, highlights a specific point in time when the change occurred. Was it in your 30s? Did it happen in your 60s?

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