On a university website concerning the requirements to enroll in a post graduate studies I read:

For Post Graduate studies we look at all prior study including Undergraduate grades and Post Graduate grades (if the applicant has already done a masters before).

Can the writer say "if the applicant did or had done a master before" ? because in my thinking the word before denotes that the applicant had done and finished his studies before he applied.

I am not sure

So What is the differences in meaning between these three options if used here ?

Thank you.


2 Answers 2


The present perfect is appropriate here because the sentence is really about the present. It matters to the university whether the applicant "has done a masters before" because, presumably, the applicant who has is deemed more competent and knowledgeable today by the university.

The simple past, as the name suggests, is used to describe a past occurrence with no intended implication about the present. For example: "My late uncle did his masters at NYU."

The rule erdk suggests is perhaps a useful shortcut for taking a test, but you should understand how the rule came to be. For the present perfect, since the emphasis is on the present, it usually doesn't make sense to mention the time. "I've seen the film before, so I don't want to see it now, (It doesn't matter whether I saw last week, last month, or last year. I don't want to see it today.) Note, though, that this isn't the case when the time is introduced by the word "since," so the rule isn't foolproof. ("I've been a member since 1989.")

The opposite isn't always true either. There are instances where the simple past is appropriate even when the time is not specified. For example: "How did you meet your wife?" "We met at a bookstore." Here, the subject matter is the past, so the past tense is appropriate, even though the time isn't mentioned.


One of the rules explaining the use of the Present Perfect versus the Past Simple is that when the time is not specified, you use the Present Perfect.


I have already seen that film.

I've seen that film before.

I saw that film last summer.

In the last one we switch to the Past Simple because there is a specific reference to "when". "before" is also a time reference, but so imprecise that it's the equivalent of giving no information as to when.

  • Thank you so helpful and simple, that encourage me to ask you about the third option "had done" can this tense fit here ? Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 9:30
  • Hi Gamal, you use the past perfect "had done" to refer to something before the past: I saw that film because some friends had told me it was good.
    – erdk
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 9:59

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