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I have a question about the use of present perfect and past simple with unfinished time.

What is the difference between "I've been to the shops today" and I went to the shops today"? Can I use present perfect only when the shops are open and do I have to switch to past simple when the shops have closed in the evening?

If I want to stress present relevance of my having been to the shops that day and it is now 11 p.m., can I use present perfect or is past simple the only option?

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    I really can't believe this question from you, Anouk. Can't you remember the standard thing? It depends on what you want to say. You. It does not depend on outside factors like open shops. What is important? The fact of when you went? Or the fact of having gone? Obviously, one can say both. You know this, we have done this over and over.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2022 at 18:44

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The difference is in how you are choosing to present the events - whether as a completed action, or as an action in a period which extends to the present.

This difference does not necessarily correlate with any objective circumstance, not even whether the shops are still open. You can say I've been to the shops today even if they are now closed, and you can say I went to the shops today even if they are still open. (You're right that often the choice will imply such an objective difference, but I don't find that in this example).

The difference is entirely in how you are choosing to present the temporal landscape.

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  • The going does not extend to the present. The difference is one emphasizes the going occurring at an undefined time in the past re the present and the other the completed fact.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2022 at 18:54
  • @Colin Fine Could you give an example where the choice implies an objective difference?
    – anouk
    Apr 17, 2022 at 19:03
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    I didn't see him today suggests that the opportunity to see him has finished, whereas I haven't seen him today suggests that it is still possible for me to see him. These are only implications, and can be overridden by other statements or by context.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 17, 2022 at 19:57
  • @Colin Fine That is exactly what I meant. If the shops have closed, the opportunity to shop again has finished, so why is it possible to say: "I've been to the shops" when they have closed? What is the difference with "I didn't see him today"?
    – anouk
    Apr 17, 2022 at 22:05
  • @anouk: because I don't find that implication in the choice of verb form in this case. It's not a matter of an implication that can be overridden: for me, there is simply not the implication. I do not know what the difference is between the cases; perhaps that whether the shops are still open or not is generally common knowledge, probably known to all the interlocutors.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 18, 2022 at 8:56
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Whether or not the shops are still open makes no difference.

I went to the shops today is just a statement about what you did earlier.

I've been to the shops today could mean the same, but you would be more likely to say it if you were talking about, or showing off something you had bought - so the trip to the shops is relevant to your present situation.

I've been to the shops today - shall I show you the new dress I bought?

We shan't need to go to town tomorrow. I've been to the shops today, so there's plenty of food for the next few days.

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  • As I have said repeatedly, yes, the trip to the shops is relevant as it has already occurred without saying when. Just that is a past thing in relation to the present. In this case, today would still have to be "in effect".
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2022 at 18:57

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