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Sometimes I feel difficulty telling the difference between simple past and present perfect.

Given a picture like this:

A man fell off his bike.

which one is correct between these two? Or in what sense are they different?

A. He fell off his motorcycle.

B. He has fallen off his motorcycle.

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    Either would be fine, as would Present Tense He falls off his bike (or He is falling off his bike), since the action is obviously taking place while being photographed. Aug 20, 2014 at 21:05

2 Answers 2

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Simple past: An action or event happened in the past.

Present perfect: An action or event has happened in the past and it's might happen again in the future.

A. He fell off his motorcycle.
This just means "he just fell off his motorbike." Example: Mike fell off his motorbike. Do you want to see him at the hospital?

B. He has fallen off his motorcycle.
This means that he fell off the motorbike (yesterday) and there is a chance that it will happen again in the future. Example: Mike has fallen off the motorbike again. This is the third time in a month.

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    The present perfect says nothing about the future.
    – user6951
    Mar 11, 2015 at 21:33
  • In this instance: "He has fallen off his motorcycle" refers to NOW, it suggests that he is going to be seen by medics, maybe he's broken a bone in his body, or he is going to be late for an appointment because of the motorbike accident. It does not suggest he will or might fall again in the future.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 23 at 9:37
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The following is an excerpt from an explanation on ego4u.com: (English Grammar Online)


In British English, the use of Simple Past and Present Perfect is quite strict. As soon as a time expression in the past is given, you have to use Simple Past. If there are no signal words, you must decide if we just talk about an action in the past or if its consequence in the present is important.

In American English, you can normally use Simple Past instead of Present Perfect. We cannot accept this in our exercises, however, as this would lead to confusions amongst those who have to learn the differences.

Simple Past
Emphasis on action
Example:

  • I bought a new bike. (just telling what I did in the past.)

Present Perfect
Emphasis on result
Example:

  • I have bought a new bike. (With this sentence I actually want to express that I have a new bike now.)

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