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‎"I never asked that question before."

"I never said that."

From my memories I forgot where I heard this. English speakers especially Americans sometimes use simple past to mean present perfect, is that true?

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    I'll note what no one else has so far, which is that while "before" technically necessitates the past perfect, "I never said that" isn't necessarily a simplification. In fact, to me there's a meaning contrast: "I've never said that" means I haven't said it in my life, but "I never said that" means I didn't say it in the relevant timeframe. Aug 24, 2023 at 13:40
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    This phenomenon may have more to do with the usage of "never" than with the usage of "have." Some languages, e.g. Tai-Kadai languages, implicitly require past-tense for any use of "never," and do not even allow "never" to apply to anything future. Subconsciously, even to English speakers, "never" typically implies past-tense. For present tense, or even future tense, "not" seems more appropriate. The reason "never" gets a present-tense or future-tense use in English is for emphasis--making the point stronger than "not" would connote.
    – Biblasia
    Aug 24, 2023 at 13:47
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    @Biblasia in this case, it's the use of the words "asked" and "said" that indicate past tense. "Never" is irrelevant. We could just as easily say, "I never ask that," and "I never do that", and all implication/inference of past tense immediately disappears.
    – David
    Aug 24, 2023 at 17:22
  • @David I'm well aware that "never" is used in English with present and future tense. What I'm pointing out is that it is an emphatic form of "no" or "not" when used this way, as "never" more appropriately addresses the past.
    – Biblasia
    Aug 24, 2023 at 17:41
  • The ‎Question is way off base. 'I never asked that question before…' could no more be compared to 'I never said that…' than chalk to cheese, green to gross or short to strong. 'I have never asked that question before' is more correct but my experience here in the UK, in Australia and Zimbabwe is that neither native speakers nor foreigners are any more likely to drop, or to keep that 'have' than Californians, Coloradans or New Englanders. This hinges not on geography or even dialect but on personal style, under-pinned by education. Aug 26, 2023 at 21:29

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At least for these statements, this isn't a matter of using simple past to mean present perfect.

Using simple past associates the statements with some sort of scope. For example, "I never said that" would be appropriate in the following conversation:

Alice: "I got you that sandwich."
Bob: "What are you talking about?"
Alice: "You said you wanted a sandwich."
Bob: "I never said that. That was Paul."

Bob may have, at some point in his life, said he wanted a sandwich. However, he never said it in the conversation Alice is thinking of. (Paul said it.)

In contrast, "I have never said that." would be a much stronger statement. It would mean that never, in Bob's entire life, has he ever said he wanted a sandwich.

As for "I never asked that question before," the scope is before... something. Probably before the person did ask that question. That could be recent, or it could have happened a while ago. If it's very recent, present perfect could also be appropriate. If it was 5 years ago, simple past is appropriate, but present perfect wouldn't be.

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    Intersting variation "I would never say that" meaning never in my past life or ever in the future.
    – Philip Roe
    Aug 25, 2023 at 19:30
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English speakers especially Americans sometimes use simple past to mean present perfect, is that true?

Yes.

Indeed, many Americans don't internally make a significant psychological distinction between the simple past and the present perfect as separate tenses at all, which is why they drop the "have." It is a distinction in tenses that only some Americans would recognize (it may be a function of different regional dialects of American English). Only a minority of Americans could articulate any difference in meaning between these sentences with and without the word "have".

There is a theoretical difference which another answer to your question explains. But the distinction between the simple past and past perfect is more important than other languages that were a model for English grammar texts than it is a deeply ingrained part of vernacular American English. Only the most pedantic fluent speakers of American English would find the use of the simple past instead of the past perfect to be "jarring" or would think that it sounds seriously incorrect. At most using the simple past when the past perfect is intended would cause the person speaking that way to be perceived as speaking in a slightly less formal speech register.

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    I feel like most Americans would not blink if someone emphasized the distinction; they may or may not habitually make that distinction themselves (I do, but then I might be the minority you refer to), but this makes it sound like it would be a totally foreign concept to them, which isn’t true of anyone I’ve ever met.
    – KRyan
    Aug 24, 2023 at 14:07
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    I think I agree with the main conclusions in the latter paragraph, but I disagree with something implicit in the first. I find it very plausible that a majority of Americans cannot articulate the difference between simple past and present perfect, but this doesn't mean they don't unconsciously choose between them fluently and meaningfully. Very few Americans would say "I have gone biking" and "I went biking" have exactly the same meaning, and almost everyone would choose fluently between them and use both appropriately, even if they can't articulate exactly why they did so. Aug 24, 2023 at 14:21
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    The converse of the last statement is that many Americans may perceive the use of present perfect as unnecessarily formal. The speaker might be viewed as trying to sound upper-class.
    – Barmar
    Aug 24, 2023 at 15:38
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    For context, I, as a native British English speaker, have always had a very strong sense of when the present perfect and simple past are appropriate; I could always use the "correct" one and spot when it was wrong. But I never had a conscious knowledge of what the actual distinction was until I started studying language and linguistics in my spare time. Having said all this, I do agree that Americans are much more likely to use especially simple past in place of present perfect than Brits are, so perhaps it would not surprise me if Americans have a lower instinctual understanding than I did.
    – Muzer
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:00
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    Or compare "I('ve) been working on a book" to "I was working on a book" and "I worked on a book". The biggest thing that differentiates the first from the other two is not that it sounds especially formal (if the "'ve" is omitted, it sounds informal): it is its shade of meaning. The difference in meaning is not rigid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist at all (or that it only exists for a pedantic minority of speakers).
    – sumelic
    Aug 25, 2023 at 17:11
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Yes and No.

It's not so much that Americans use the Simple Past to mean the Present Perfect. It's that we often aren't noticing (or focusing on) the connection with the present at all. It indicates that the speaker is looking at it as an event wholly in the past with little-to-no connection to ongoing events, and so is using the Simple Past accordingly.

We probably ought to consider the Present Perfect's applicability to the situation. But that's a different matter. And you certainly won't sound strange to an American ear if you recognize it (and use Present Perfect) when speaking yourself.

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I'm not a linguist but I think one thing that might be at play is that most American English speakers would prefer "I've never" to "I have never". And there's a tendency to drop sounds like the 've' in "I've". I notice this in my own speech sometimes. I will be thinking "I've", but I don't say it out loud, or it's at least so quiet that no one could be expected to hear it. Other examples of this trend are things like "I got this" or "I got it" (e.g.: in baseball.) The 'have' is implied/assumed.

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No. English speakers especially Americans never use Simple Past to mean Present Perfect. Your sentences can be expressed using Past Simple or Present Perfect. The following text is from the Britannica Dictionary 1:

Use the simple past when the action started in the past, finished in the past, and is not continuing now. Use the present perfect when the action started in the past and is continuing now.

The simple past tells us that an action happened at a certain time in the past, and is not continuing anymore. It doesn't tell us anything about when an action happened, so more information needs to be given with this verb form, such as when the action took place.

The present perfect tells us that an action started in the past and it is still happening now, or it is something that happens regularly. We may need more information to tell us how long it has been going on. It may also tell us that the time period it started in is still going on.

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    But Americans are more likely to use the simple past where a British English speaker would use the present perfect, e.g. (A) 'I just had my dinner' - (B) 'I've just had my dinner'. Aug 24, 2023 at 9:43
  • @KateBunting Hi! Americans and British omit the word 'have' when they talk but they don't use Simple Past to mean Present Perfect. Aug 24, 2023 at 10:12
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    As a native speaker of British English I can tell you that we traditionally say "I have just [done that]" where Americans would say "I just [did that]", though the American usage ("X product just got better") is creeping in. Aug 24, 2023 at 10:31
  • Using present perfect for cases like those examples seems weird, if it's supposed to be for actions that are still continuing. If you (have) just had dinner, you finished having dinner. You're not still having it. If a product (has) just got(ten) better, the improvement was completed. It's not a work in progress. Aug 24, 2023 at 12:51
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    Grammarly says one of the uses for present perfect is for actions that were completed very recently. That makes more sense than interpreting having dinner as an ongoing action, but it also sounds like simple past is fine for such cases too. Aug 24, 2023 at 12:57
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I (have) noticed Australians and Fijians do that too. This year I'm planning to travel (to) other countries so will (get to) see what others are saying. English speakers in New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore (do) say it though. Semantically the phrase makes sense so (it) might be redundant in some communities, similar to (the word) "did" eg. Instead of "I did have it", more common now is "I had it".

Americans have their own accepted American English (though) anyway. One common phrase is "off of" eg. "I took the spoon off of the table" when "I took the spoon off the table" makes perfect sense, or "go ahead and take that spoon" instead of "take that spoon".

"have" by definition refers to possession eg. I have one nose. To explicitly state "have" in phrases where it's redundant would then be justified when emphasis is being made, which could otherwise be done by repetition. eg. "I had a Ferrari once" replaced by "I have had a Ferrari once".

The word itself requires a lot more effort (energy and air volume) to be pronounced so is fairly common to drop it, especially when it's redundant or can be replaced by a cheaper (less effort to pronounce) word eg. "Did you eat" instead of "Have you had anything to eat".

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  • To me (Australian) "I had a Ferrari once" is like "Once upon a time I had a Ferrari." On the other hand "I have had a Ferrari once" would usually be contrasted to "I have had a Ferrari twice".
    – Peter
    Aug 27, 2023 at 10:58

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