Do native speaker use "Present Perfect" (in real life) as it should be done? I have watched many US movies, and I noticed that the simple past tense is used more often.

For example, suppose that there has been recent news, and somebody just met his friend and asked him "Did you hear something about...?"

I was expecting to hear "Have your heard something about that news?"

Another example: Just when somebody got home, his little brother broke the vase. Instead of telling to his friend "My brother has broken the vase." he said "my brother broke the vase."

  • 1
    Also, do clarify what you mean by "as it should be done". Because what should be done is decided by the native speakers. They make the rules. Right now your only objection seems to be that it is used less often than another tense, which is nothing of notice. Some tenses have to be used more often than others. Lastly, check out this question on ELU (and the questions linked from there).
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 10:20
  • @ЯegDwight I mean in situations when your are expecting for Present Perfect they use the Simple Past
    – anouar.bag
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 10:26
  • @snailplane check my edit
    – anouar.bag
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 10:31
  • 1
    @anouar well yes, I got that, but my question is, why do you expect Present Perfect in those situations? What are those situations? In other words what I'm aiming at is that you state the rule you are applying. Then we can see if it's too broad, or completely wrong, or does not apply to a particular dialect or register, etc.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 10:40
  • @ЯegDwight check my edit
    – anouar.bag
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 11:05

3 Answers 3


This is an old question, but I want to make a point clear:

Yes, the present perfect is used all the time, by native English speakers, in all registers and dialects of English, from extremely informal to very formal. You cannot sound like a native English speaker without using it when it is called for. (It's not like, say, knowing how to use "whom," which you don't really have to do.)

The good news is that, in a lot of places, the two are interchangeable. Moreover, you are likely to use the past more. Also, using the present perfect in the wrong place will sound very strange and sometimes make you unintelligible, whereas using the past in the wrong place may communicate the wrong shade of meaning but will rarely get your listener completely lost. Therefore, I recommend using the past most of the time, then inserting the perfect gradually if you are sure you are right.

To make sure I wasn't wrong, I turned on the TV now to a sitcom rerun. Ignoring other tenses (mostly present) here is my tally in ten minutes or so:

past 31

present perfect 4

and some other past tense constructions:

"lately, I have been having thoughts" "I think that may have missed the table." "oh God, I shouldn't have said anything" "he kept laughing at..."


In American English, the past tense seems to be used in some cases where British English would use the present perfect construction. That is perhaps why you have heard it more in US movies.

  • can you give examples? Perhaps a movie quote or two? Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 21:58

Directly quoted from EnglishSpanishLink.com:

Present perfect - use in real life:

1. Completed actions with implications in the present.

We must remember that present perfect is a present tense. It can be used to talk about completed action in the past, however:

I've finished my English homework. (Present perfect)

But the person who said this was also implying something which is present. For example, he could be saying

Can I go home now?


Can I do another exercise now?


Can you check it for me , teacher? etc.

If we are thinking about or we mention a past time when we speak, then we can't use present perfect; we use past simple:

I finished my English homework before dinner last night. (Past simple)

2. An action that started in the past and continues in the present.

If a past action continues to the present time, we use present perfect to express that action:

I've had this shirt for two days.

Spain have been world soccer champions for a long time.

Mary has always liked John.

In the above examples we assume that: I have the shirt now; Spain are world soccer champions now; Mary likes John now.

It is a mistake to use present simple in these situations:

I have this shirt for two days.

With this use of present perfect, it is common to use the prepositions "for" and "since" to express how much time has passed. "For" is used to talk about a period of time and "since" is used to mention the starting moment of the action:

I've wanted to own a car like that for years.

He's only known that girl for about two weeks.

There's been a power cut since eight o'clock this morning.

Mary has dressed in that way since she was a teenager.

Present perfect is also used in a similar way to talk about repeated actions in the past but with reference to a present time like: this year, this month, recently, etc:

My husband has been to Madrid three times this year.

I've had a cold twice this month.

There have been several robberies in this area recently.

This second use of present perfect is closely related to present perfect continuous...

  • Is there any difference between US and British for those rules?
    – anouar.bag
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 14:02

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