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It seems to me that if somebody were to ask me:

Yeah, how do you know what war is like?

The most fitting response would be:

Because, you see, I have fought in a war.

But if someone would ask me why I am so sure about ominious experiments conducted by one company, I reckon my answer would go:

I know it, because I used to work for that company.

The past tense sounds better to me, as it seems that the perfect tense would imply that I still work for them. Or would it?

Now, why is that? Or perhaps you have some other point of view, and I should have used the perfect tense or the past tense in both instances?

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    In my opinion, the crucial aspect here is that 1) you say 'used to' for something that happened regularly in the past but no longer happens. 2) you use the present perfect that does not necessarily imply that your actions were regular in the past. – user11470 Jan 13 '15 at 19:19
  • You might want to take a look at What is the perfect, and how should I use it?, especially §§ 3.1 Grammatical meaning and 3.2 Pragmatic meaning; these develop at intolerable length what Humbulani, eques and CarSmack tell you very concisely, that the perfect is always ambiguous in itself and its meaning must be resolved by inference from the context. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 15 '15 at 2:12
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I know it, because I used to work for that company.

This implies that you no longer work for that company, but when or how it ended is left unstated.

I know it, because I have worked for that company.

This does not imply that you still work for the company. It just emphasizes that the fact that you did work from them is relevant now.

Either are fine; they just shift emphasis somewhat. Since "to work" in this sense is a stative verb, the meanings are somewhat blended. The difference is more clear with some active verbs (like eat: "used to eat" is a habit, "have eaten" is an experience with a result). The difference is also apparent when you consider how you can modify the phrases with time periods, etc.

Because, you see, I have fought in a war.

This fine. You could also see

Because, you see, I fought in a war

Or

Because, you see, I fought in World War II

(with a specific war, I'd expect the simple past more likely).

Because, you see, I used to fight in wars

This one, while grammatical, means something different. This means habitually (several times) you fought in different wars (for an unspecified period).

Note: You would not usually say

"I used to fight in a war".

  • "Because you see, [X]" should, in all cases, be "Because, you see, [X]". Otherwise you are stating that you fought in wars because the listener can see. Nice answer, regardless! – Adam Jan 13 '15 at 19:20
  • But if I wanted to imply that I still work for that particular company I'd have to complete the sentence with an additional "for" or "since" structure, right? A simple statement, like the one given in my original post, is only remotely related to the present, but took place entirely in the past, is that correct? Thus, it would be incorrect to say "Because, you see, I have fought in a war for a long time" in this context, as it'd clearly mean that at the very moment of speaking I'm still taking part in a conflict. – Bebop B. Jan 13 '15 at 19:24
  • @Bebop B. Read the answer of eques again. What matters is whether or not you fought in various wars. If you are a mercenary, then you can say that you used to fight in wars. If not, you don't use this construct. Is this so hard to understand? – user11470 Jan 13 '15 at 19:35
  • @Humbulani. I'm not quite sure why you think I haven't understood eques's answer. I have, but what I'm trying to do now is expand my question to understand the cause even better. Note that I haven't mentioned the structure "used to" in my entire comment; it's all about the proper use of PPT both for past and present ongoing events. – Bebop B. Jan 13 '15 at 19:46
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    When you use for/since with the present perfect, it implies until now. "I have worked here for five years" (implies "I started working here five years ago"). – eques Jan 13 '15 at 21:48
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The simple past can refer to a past time that by definition excludes the present. (I say can because we also use the past tense form to refer to the present in some cases.)

The present perfect refers to a period of time that began in the past but continues right up to the moment of speaking.

The activity or event indicated by the verb does not have to continue up to the present moment, but it can. What is the case is that the past activity is relevant to something observable at the moment of speaking.

I have fought in a war.

This is fitting because the fact that I've fought in a war has continuing significance or meaning to me. The experience makes up part of who I am in the present. I know what war is like.

It is up to the speaker to clarify (if he chooses) whether the activity is still going on at the moment of speaking. The statement 'I have fought in a war' often implies that the speaker is not still fighting in that same war. This is true for most dynamic or action verbs. But the context of the statement helps to determine the issue.

As such, the present perfect can imply that the past action not only began in the past, but that it is still going on. 'I've studied English for ten years' certainly implies that one is still studying English when the statement is made (not literally at that exact moment, but at "an undefined ongoing time that includes the present").

'I've practiced safe sex all my life, so don't worry' certainly implies that the speaker is still in the habit of practicing safe sex at the moment of uttering the statement. But one never knows for sure.

'I've worked at that company'

This means that I worked for that company in the past, and that this past action has some relevance at the moment of speaking. Depending on the context, it may or may not imply that the speaker is still working there at the the moment of speaking.

But if someone would ask me why I am so sure about ominious experiments conducted by one company, I reckon my answer would go:

I know it, because I used to work for that company.

Yes, this is a natural construction to use here. The "used to" indicates an ongoing action in the past that is not still going on in the present. The very fact that you "used to" work there gives you knowledge about the experiments (at least this is what you claim.)

You could also use the simple past: "I know it, because I worked there for x years." Again the action of working there for x years happened in the past. But that experience gives you knowledge about the experiments (or that is what you claim). However, the use of the simple past means you are just reporting on an event that was completed in the past.

But you could just as well use the present perfect:

"I know because I've worked there for x years and I am sure some ominous experiments are being done." Here the use of the present perfect with for x years indicates that the speaker still works there at the moment of speaking.

You could also just say

"I know because I've worked there and I am sure some ominous experiments are being done."

In this example, the hearer cannot be absolutely sure whether the speaker still works there or not. The context of the statement can help determine this, as well as the hearer's knowledge about the speaker. This shows that the use of the present perfect (and any verb form) depends on the viewpoint of the speaker. And as I said way above, the speaker does not have to clarify if the past action is still going on at the moment of speaking. Language allows for a lot of ambiguity.

Note: I wrote an answer about the present perfect today also on ELU. It gives more examples.

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    +1 Especially for "Language allows for a lot of ambiguity". You might even add "and in practice, using language requires a lot of ambiguity." – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 15 '15 at 2:25

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