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I have a question about the use of phrases like "Have you locked the door", "have you closed the windows" etc.

Can these phrases be used when you left your house a while ago and you are now at the airport for example, or can they only be used when you haven't started your journey yet? I've read that if you've just left your house present perfect is appropriate, but once you've reached the airport or your destination, past simple should be used.

I am confused because if you haven't locked your door there is a present relevance, even if you are now at the airport or your destination.

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    Yes, there is still a present relevance, but it would feel odd to a native speaker to ask "Have you locked the door?" when there is no longer an opportunity to do so. Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 10:15
  • @Kate Bunting Could you explain why the present relevance in this case is not relevant so to speak? Someone told me it is because "Have you locked the door" is said as a reminder to lock the door.
    – anouk
    Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 12:20
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    Grammar 'rules' don't always apply in every case. I can only say that it feels natural (at least to me as a BrE speaker) to ask "Have you [done that]?" only when there is still a possibility of doing so if the person had forgotten to do it. Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 14:06
  • so if there is still a possibility that the action can be done it is better to use present perfect . So" have you locked the door "could be possible if the locking was still possible . ", Have you locked the door ? or shall I phone our neighbor to do it before we take the airplane "In this case would present perfect be better ?"
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 11:57

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This earlier question of yours is quite reasonable: You were essentially asking "How can we explain why someone chose a perfect tense instead of a simple tense." But it's slightly different to ask "Which tense can/should I choose?" And the answer is you can choose either, and there will be very slight changes in meaning (if any).

The advice that you shouldn't use present perfect after you get to the airport seems confusing, or perhaps it's thinking very specifically about a very narrow context. There's no limit on how long ago in the past present perfect can refer to. When James Taylor says "I've seen fire and I've seen rain," he might be reminiscing about long ago in his life.

So what's the difference? If I say "I ate frog legs," I'm talking about an event in my past. One day I ate some frog legs. If I say "I've eaten frog legs," then I'm talking about my present state: I am a person who has eaten frog legs.

Sometimes the difference is so small it doesn't really affect the meaning. If I ask "Have you locked the door" or "Did you lock the door," there is no real, significant change in meaning; in one, I'm asking whether the door "is in a state of having been locked," in the other, I'm asking whether the locking happened. Either way, it's locked. The present state and the past act are so close together in time that there is little difference; we can choose either.

Perhaps what the advice about the airport was getting at is: The farther apart the past act gets from the present, the bigger the difference in meaning when we choose one tense or the other. If you step out the door, lock it, get into the car, and want to report the locking, there is very little difference between "I locked the door" and "I have locked the door." However, it is true that, by the time you get to the airport, "I locked" is more likely to be chosen than "I have locked," perhaps because at this point no one really cares about my current state any more, only the door's.

That also shows: If you shift the subject of the sentence, it will sometimes influence the choice of tense. We feed our dog every morning. I want to make sure I don't feed her after my wife already has, so I often ask "Have you fed the dog?" If more time has passed, I might ask "Did you feed the dog?" But if I make the dog the subject of the sentence, I am much more likely, no matter how long it's been, to ask "Has the dog been fed?" Because here we're really putting the focus on the state of the dog, which is what we really care about.

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  • "perhaps because at this point no one really cares about my current state any more, only the door's." If you care about the state of the door shouldn't "I have locked the door" be used, the door is in a state of being locked? –
    – anouk
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 12:20
  • @anouk "I have locked the door" makes a statement about my state, not the door's. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 12:52
  • I thought "I have locked the door" means "the door is now locked= in a state of being locked. The resultative use of the present perfect.
    – anouk
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 19:38
  • @anouk You're talking about logic, but not grammar. "I have locked the door" means "I am a person who has had the experience of locking the door." After all, what if someone unlocked it after me? Then "I have locked the door" would still be true (although misleading and deceptive), but "the door is locked" would not be true. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 20:41

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