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I've realized that I don't really use the present perfect and simple past correctly. My main problem is that when doing exercises I've found the explanations to be (sometimes) forced.

Some of the rules for using present perfect are:

  • Connection to the present
  • Recently completed
  • Imprecise time reference

Yet, an example like

The police arrested two people early this morning.

uses the past simple. If it was from a news channel I would find it to be correct, but if I were talking, why not use the present perfect?

I could be scared by this, so it has a connection to the present. Plus this morning could be interpreted as recently completed which is imprecise.

The reason given for the answer to this exercise is that it's a finished action (which I also find silly, because finished actions can also be expressed with the present perfect).

  • 3
    The present perfect is a present tense. It is not used to narrate a past event but to name a past event as the origin of a present state. See What is the perfect, and how should I use it?, especially §§ 3.1 Grammatical meaning, 3.2 Pragmatic meaning and 4. When and how should I use the perfect?. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 15 '16 at 15:28
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    When using the present perfect, we are thinking of the whole period up to now. The past simple is prefered if we are thinking of a finished part of that period. Compare: 1) The police arrested two people early this morning. (Natural, since it does't consider the whole morning up to now.) 2) The police have arrested two people this morning. (The whole morning up to now.) – Alejandro Feb 15 '16 at 16:52
  • I have a typo in my second example, that should be The police has ... – Alejandro Feb 15 '16 at 17:45
  • That's right! Indeed I found an example which is basically the same as mine, but without "early". In that case the book says that I can use both, depending whether the morning is ended or not. I was confused by that "connected to the present" and if "it's about the result" (which is also... opinionable). E.G.: she has broken her leg. She is still in the hospital. Is this case correct because she still has her leg broken? – drM. Feb 15 '16 at 20:58
  • Another one: She has been away for the last two weeks. Does it imply that she's still away (I think so, but would it be correct to use "was" if she returned?)? or does it mean that she has just returned (like "have you been playing?" means they just stopped)? I think the latter explanation could work for: I have been busy for the past fortnight (in which I still find was more natural..). – drM. Feb 15 '16 at 21:50
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Regarding finished past events, we use the

present perfect simple to relate events that occurred in a time period that has not yet finished

and the

simple past for events that took place in a time period that has ended.

American English generally allows for the use of either tense in these situations, while British English grammar insists on using the two tenses to distinguish them.

The arrest took place in the time period of "early this morning", which is apparently assumed to be over at the time of the utterance. So the relevant fact is not that the arrest is finished, but that the early morning is finished.

"This is the third time she's been arrested this year", on the other hand, occurs in an unfinished time period (if this year is not yet over), and so allows for (British: requires) the present perfect.

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The time reference cannot exclude the present moment in a statement using the present perfect. "early this morning" excludes the present moment.

Early this morning refers to the recent past.

The police have arrested two people believed to be the perpetrators.

There's no explicit time reference there, and so a valid paraphrase would be as of this moment, two people are under arrest.

  • +1 The first part of your answer is arrestingly clear and at least often useful, but seems to lose its elegant power if fed, for example, I've been abducted by aliens twice, if utterred after the second abduction and any associated probing, etc. has been completed. Do we recognize that such includes the implicit time reference so far? Does that implied reference that includes the present collapse into one that doesn't if we instead say I was abducted by aliens twice? – Jim Reynolds Feb 15 '16 at 22:27
  • Apart from the verb tense itself, there is no time reference in "I've been abducted by aliens twice". OK: I've been abducted by aliens twice this summer. not OK: I've been abducted by aliens twice last summer. I've seen this movie a million times. I like the part where the dinosaur... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 15 '16 at 23:19
  • Twice and a million times are not chronological time references. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 15 '16 at 23:28

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