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From the English workbook "access 2", page 48:

Finish the dialogue with verb forms in the present perfect or simple past.

Dan: Have you ever been to Dartmoor, Amira?

Amira: Yes, I have. I _________ (be) there twice.

Given that Amira does not live in Dartmoor and both Dan and Amira are not in Dartmoor now (the question would be stupid), I filled in the word was into the empty space.

I chose was because

Use the simple past when the action started in the past, finished in the past, and is not continuing now.

Source: Britannica

So, if the answer is past simple, why is the question in present perfect, then? Isn't it clear to Dan that the action started in the past and finished in the past?

Why is the question of Dan not "Were you ever to Dartmoor, Amira?"

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  • Not sure what your question is exactly, but wouldn't "have been" be better than "was?" I assume both could be correct, but "have been" would be much more idiomatic.
    – Eli Harold
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 13:24
  • @EliHarold: well in real life, I would have answered "I have been there twice". But this is homework of my child, so he has to follow the rules. The rules say that it has to be past simple when it started in the past and finished in the past. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 13:50
  • If you wish to match the teachers wishes rather than give the truly best answer then coming to us is not the right play. Maybe ask the teacher? Regardless I would suggest you read more information about this to get to your answer.
    – Eli Harold
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 14:11
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    The question is in present perfect, because this this is not actually a question about the past! It's a question about your current condition - your current condition is either "have been to Dartmoor" or "have not been to Dartmoor". Therefore, the more natural answer is in the present perfect too. If "the rules" say the answer has to be in past simple, the rules are wrong, but I suspect that you're just reading them slightly wrong, because this isn't a question about something that started and finished in the past; it's a question about now.
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 14:12
  • We have a really good explanation of the perfect: Canonical Post #2: What is the perfect, and how should I use it? It's pretty long, but I think it would help you understand why trying to analyze the timing of an action is not a great way to know whether you should use the perfect.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 14:13

2 Answers 2

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The "rule" you quoted is simply wrong - or, rather, it is a huge oversimplification of a complicated situation. It states that the choice of which form to use depends only on objective facts (is the event complete in the past?), but this is not true. We use the present perfect when a speaker or writer is choosing to present events or situations in the past as having present relevance.

This might mean that the event has only just finished ("I've had my lunch"), or that it has consequences that continue to the present ("I've written that essay"), or that the speaker is framing it within a time interval that continues to the present ("I haven't seen him today", as opposed to "I didn't see him today", which implies that the possibility of seeing him today has ended), or other possibilities.

The "Have you ever ...?" question is an example of this last - it locates the event during a possibly very long window which extends to the present. Here we have a period extending from the past up to the present, during which Amira might have been to Dartmoor.

The most natural answer adopts that frame, and answers that yes, there were some occasions during that period extending from some time in the past up to the present when she was there, and so she answers with I have been.

As David says, there's the additional issue that the idiom been to (meaning "have gone somewhere and then come back") is only available in perfect form - you cannot say I am to/will be to/was being to Dartmoor, only I have/had/will have been to Dartmoor.

If we change it to in, so avoiding that problem, then the simple past Were you ever in Dartmoor, Yes I was. is possible, but uncommon in British English (I think it is more common in American usage_). Again, this underlines that the choice is in how the speaker is presenting events, not in objective reality.

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The suggested question :

Were you ever to Dartmoor, Amira?

is not natural, and probably not even grammatically valid. Somewhat similar but valid forms might be:

  • Were you ever in Dartmoor, Amira?
  • Have you ever visited Dartmoor, Amira?

The simple past version would be something like:

Did you go to Dartmoor, Amira?

But this changes the meaning.

The original form:

Have you ever been to Dartmoor, Amira?

is perfectly natural. The form "Have you ever X" means "Did you, at any time in the past, do X?" It is a very usual form for asking such questions, and the reply might be in the simple past or the past perfect.

Note also that the questioner cannot know in advance (unless the dialog is scripted) what verb form the answer will use, and so cannot match it strictly, but there is no need to do so.

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