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I am a middle aged woman who went to university where I studied French. This was 30 years ago . If someone asks me: "what have you studied?" can I answer: "I have studied French at university"(without mentioning when), because this is an achievement and/or life experience or is past simple a better option because the studying happened thirty years ago? Or are both possible for the reasons given?

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    The past simple sounds more natural: "I studied French at university". Mar 20 at 15:38
  • @Weather Vane If I say: "I've studied French" without "at university", does that make a difference?
    – anouk
    Mar 20 at 18:00
  • You don't have to answer a question in the same tense it was asked. The simple past sounds more definite than the uncertain "I have studied..." as if you think it "doesn't count". Mar 20 at 18:09
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    I've studied French. implies the person you are with may have thought you didn't know any French. You could also say to them: I know, I studied French. But in general here, I would use simple past. It is an experience that is definitely over. Avoid the PP is a thing is done and dusted.
    – Lambie
    Mar 20 at 18:57

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If someone asks "What have you studied?", it would be fine to say "I've studied French". This makes a connection to the present: You imply "And so now I understand French literature..."

When you add "at university", and especially if you add "30 years ago", you are shifting the time to the past, and it would be very natural to shift to the past tense (especially as 30 years is a long time - tell me about it)

So it would be natural to reply.

I studied French at university.

This doesn't make the present perfect wrong, and you can use it if you want to make that connection to the present, perhaps as one of a sequence of things:

I've studied Maths and Literature at Lyceé, French at university, Education as a teacher and accounting, which I took a correspondence course in, last year.

(note the shift to past tense as soon as a specific time is mentioned)

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  • To me "at university" doesn't necessarily mean a long time ago, it's not a specific time. Sometimes people go to university later in life. So why is "at university"considered past time?
    – anouk
    Mar 20 at 19:12
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    It doesn't in general mean "a long time ago" But in your specific case it is 30 years ago, which is a long time. So your personal context might affect your choice of tense.
    – James K
    Mar 20 at 19:28
  • Even if I don't mention the 30 years?
    – anouk
    Mar 20 at 19:31
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    Adding "at university" shifts the focus from "now" to "the time when you were at university". So it would be natural to shift the tense to past tense. But it is not essential. No grammar error is made if you say "I have studied French at university".
    – James K
    Mar 20 at 19:59
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    Yes. "I've studied french" means that the studying happened in the past but the consequences are now.
    – James K
    Mar 20 at 22:18

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