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A: Shall I make us some dinner? It's already eight o'clock.

B: No, thanks. I['ve gone] to the dentist this afternoon and my mouth hurts too much to eat anything

It was a test and the correct answer was [went] but I realized maybe both answers are correct in a way.

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    What makes you think your version is correct? [It isn't, btw] Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 7:29
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    "B has gone to the dentist" means that they are still there. B could say "I've been to the dentist this afternoon." Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 8:12
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    Whether they are talking on the phone or face to face makes no difference to the tense. Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 9:50
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    It wouldn't be I've gone anyway. If you want to use the Perfect here, it's I've been to the dentist... But as usual, I advise not using the Perfect form at all - just stick with Simple Past I went... Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 13:05
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    Does this answer your question? Canonical Post #2: What is the perfect, and how should I use it? Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 18:56

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This isn’t just a grammar question: the examiner is also looking to see that you are using the correct tense for the situation that the first speaker established.

The present perfect tense tells us about how things got to be how they are now

The use of the present perfect (“I have gone”) says that an action is in a “completed” state. By using this tense, you are not only saying that the action was completed, you are also saying that the way things were at the end of that completed action is the way things still are - nothing has happened since to undo the action.

  1. correct: I have gone to the dentist.

This tells me that you have completed the action of “to go to the dentist”. So, where are you now? You are still at the dentist. Until you tell me something else about your location, I can only assume you are still at the dentist.

But how about this one:

  1. correct: I went to the dentist

This only says that, at some point in the past, you performed the action “to go to the dentist”, but it tells me nothing about what happened afterwards. It is possible that you are still at the dentist, but it’s also possible that you are not.

  1. correct: I went to the dentist this afternoon

More information has become available: “this afternoon” places “went to the dentist” at a specific point in time. However, it still doesn’t tell me anything about where you are now. All I know is:

  • You performed the action “to go to the dentist”
  • It happened this afternoon.

So, what’s wrong with your answer?

  1. incorrect: I have gone to the dentist this afternoon

The problem with this in the context of your exam question is that with the choice of tense, you are actually saying three things:

  • You completed the action “to go to the dentist”
  • You are still at the dentist
  • It is still afternoon

That third one might surprise you, but remember that the present perfect represents an action that began in the past, has been completed.. and has not since been undone or contradicted. So for the sentence to be logically correct, “at the dentist this afternoon” must be the speaker’s current situation.

Your proposed answer is grammatically correct, but it is not relevant to the exchange in the question. In a situation where one speaker has told you it is late in the evening, replying with a statement that implies that it is the afternoon makes no sense.

If the conversation was taking place at 3pm, over the phone, while you were still at the dentist, then your answer would be okay; but from the other speaker’s initial statement this is clearly not the case.

On the other hand, using the other option, the past imperfect (“went”), makes no claims about where you are now or what time it is, so it provides information that is relevant to the conversation and does not contradict what was said before, and is thus the correct answer.

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Present perfect, as the name indicates, is a present tense. This means it cannot occur at a finished past time. The "perfect" in the word indicates that it refers to an event or condition in the past, but the verb itself occurs in the present, as indicated by "have/has".

In your test sentence, "this afternoon" is a finished past time, so it cannot be the time of a present perfect verb. Only simple past "went" fits there.

The context is ideal for present perfect because the present meaning of "my mouth hurts" is a result of a past event of going to the dentist, so without the finished past time "this afternoon", the sentence would be quite natural with present perfect:

I've just been to the dentist and my mouth hurts too much to eat anything.

A further issue is that "have gone" usually means you haven't returned from that place yet, while "have been" means you've gone and returned, so "have gone" wouldn't be the right choice here even with "this afternoon" removed.

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