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Example 1

In general, most male adults have acted rebelliously at a certain point in their lives.

Example 2

In general, most male adults acted rebelliously at a certain point in their lives.

Are past tense and present perfect tense acceptable when we are talking about a general idea?

Is past tense more common in American English?

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    In general, most male adults act rebelliously at a certain point in their lives. For a "general truth", it makes more sense to use Present Tense. Apart from anything else, why would you want to exclude those adult males who haven't yet acted rebelliously (but they probably will do so at some point in the future, if there's any truth to the statement). If you're thinking the rebellious is likely to be in their childhood, why mention "adult males" in the first place? Commented May 7 at 17:37
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    There are tons of examples on this site of simple past versus present perfect. This is not AmE or BrE; it's about what you want to say. As for the general idea, how can you talk about one in the past if you don't use a past tense?
    – Lambie
    Commented May 8 at 16:43

2 Answers 2

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In general, most male adults acted rebelliously at a certain point in their lives.

This sentence sounds better to me, because when you say "at a certain point in their lives" you are saying when the action happened,in this case, past tense sounds better.

It could also be - In general, most male adults have acted rebelliously.

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    Welcome to ELL, Matt. Usual practice here is that if one wishes to share a sounds-better-to-me remark, then the place for is as a comment to the OP, rather than as an answer. It’s better that answers be reserved for less subjective remarks, ones that are less opinion-based, more broadly factual in nature. Commented May 7 at 14:15
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In general, most male adults have acted rebelliously at a certain point in their lives.

In general, most male adults acted rebelliously at a certain point in their lives.

These are both acceptable and common in American English. Either tense can be used and are mostly interchangeable in this context.

Small Differences

The simple past acted does emphasize that the behavior is in the past. It is an event that happened and that is no longer happening today. Inversely, the present perfect have acted leaves the timeline more ambiguous. While the context later in the sentence indicates that the behavior is in the past, the tense does leave some space for it to continue into the present. If you want to emphasize one or the other of these ideas, that may help you choose which tense to use.

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