I'm trying to understand the present perfect by myself, but besides I understand the main point, I still confused about some rules.

My doubt is about when should I use simple past or present perfect. As I was taught, we must use the simple past when the sentences have words like "yesterday, last month, last week" and the present perfect when there's an idea of unfinished time.

So, in phrases that don't have any time expression, which one should I use? For example:

Q: Oh, what happened then?

A1:"The fox has looked to the door"

A2:"The fox looked to the door"

Sorry for my bad English, I'm just avoiding using the translator

  • 1
    Use Simple Past as much as possible. Don't take too much notice of whatever you think "an idea of unfinished time" is - most non-native Anglophones overuse both Present and Past Perfect forms because they're always looking for contexts where they can use those verb forms. In fact, you should probably look for ways to avoid using them! Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


You don't use present perfect when there is an explicit or implicit past time given.

You can explicitly give a past time with words and phrases like "yesterday" or "when the sun rose", or even simply "then":

You can implicitly give a past time when answering a question

What did you do yesterday?

I went to school.

You would not say "I have been to school" since this is implicitly "yesterday".

In your example the question is asked in the past tense, and at the time "then" (which is understood to be in the past). So the answer should be in the past too. You should not use the present perfect.

More generally, present perfect is used when there is a clear connection to the present, often when it is used when talking about how things are now, as a result of events in the past.

The fox has looked in the door, so it knows that there are chickens inside.

(I'm talking about what the fox knows now, that is the connection to the present)

The fox has looked in the door every five minutes since morning.

(I'm talking about things that have been recurring until the present)

  • Thank you so much, James!
    – Honda
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 22:25

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