2

Imagine the following situation. You pick up your child from school and on the way home you ask him/her about his/her day:

(1) What have you learnt (learned)today?

(2) What did you learn today?

I think both tenses are correct to use. Right?

8
  • Is this in British or American English? The two dialects have different rules about the use of the present perfect.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 15:48
  • 3
    Not diifferent rules, but different tendencies. Americans tend to use past tense more often in contexts that Britions would use perfect.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 15:49
  • 1
    @alphabet I'm sorry. This is wrong. It depends on the speaker and level of education. Since there are tons more AmE speakers out there, this myth has been easily propagated. In the OP's question, it's all about what the OP wants to say, and not about rules. The two mean different things. I would easily say either one depending on a number of contextual factors.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:08
  • 1
    "What did you do...?" sounds more natural than "What have you done...?" But with "learned" there is more of a sense that it is still relevant, making perfect aspect more acceptable. You could argue either way, and one reason for your decision might be how you consider earlier learning to relate to the current situation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:15
  • 1
    @Lambie Geoff Lindsey has a good discussion of this, starting at about 06:45 in this video.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:50

3 Answers 3

2

Yes, both sentences are grammatically correct, and differ only in the choice of tense (present perfect v. preterite/past) Americans tend to use past tense more often in contexts that Britions would use perfect.

9
  • 1
    Agreed. To me (speaking American English) the simple past sounds better here.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 15:51
  • 1
    Look at Grammarly and the present perfect: the only thing they point out as BrE is the negative like this: I've not got any money at the moment. Otherwise it is exactly the same thing. Because we are bombarded with so much non-standard AmE stuff, this myth has grown up, propagated by some on this and other sites. There are tons more AmE speakers than BrE speakers, so what might seem like something often is not. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool AmE speaker and use the present perfect all the time.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:04
  • 1
    @Lambie The Geoff Lindsey video I linked in the comments on the OP does a good job of explaining the situation. In cases like this one, AmE allows either; neither choice is nonstandard. BrE used to prefer the perfect but the simple past has now gained more acceptance due to AmE influence.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:57
  • @alphabet No, it has not changed. The simple past is for done deals in British and American English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:15
  • 1
    @Lambie Please cite your sources for your claims. The Geoff Lindsey video will explain why examples with "just" and "already" are relevant here.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 18:36
1

Question to a student:

What did you learn today? (The school day is over).

I learned that Novosibirsk is in Russia.

Now, let's say the student did something naughty, was caught and given detention.

A parent might say there:

  • Well, Johnny, what have you learned (learnt) today? [Here, the present perfect signals the past in relation to the time of speaking, without specifying a specific time, which makes complete sense.]

Johnny says: I've learned my lesson, really, not to spit spitballs at other kids because it can get you in trouble.

The point is that the present perfect often (not always) is just signaling a past time in relation to the present time. This is the case here.

Please note: the examples given above could have been reversed. The present perfect could have been used in the first and the simple past in the second.

Grammarly_present perfect

The site given above is good summary of the two verb forms from an American site. There is only one instance, that's one, where they point out a BrE usage not much used in AmE. (Hint: negative). Otherwise, it's all the same thing.

3
  • But as James K explained above that the present perfect can also be used. That means both tense are good to use for the context in my first post. Right?
    – LE123
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:57
  • 1
    According to another Grammarly article, "In British English, you have to use the present perfect for recent actions that affect the present" whereas "American English accepts the present perfect as correct, but it also offers a second possibility: the simple past."
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:00
  • @alphabet Both: I've broken your vase and I broke your vase. are fine in both. It depends (in both) on what the speaker wants to say.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:14
1

In that context, "What did you learn today" is correct, at least to my Canadian sensibilities.

When a parent picks up their child from school and asks them about that day's lessons, they're referring to a finished past time, "today", meaning today is now a completed school day. With finished past times, we cannot use present perfect, so only simple past works.

Without the word "today", it might be grammatically correct to ask, "What have you learned?", but unfortunately, that particular phrase happens to be an expression that means something like, "You did something bad, so tell us what life lesson you've learned from it."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .