Difference between present perfect and simple past tenses

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The present perfect tense is normally used when we are talking about past events together with their present results.

James broke his leg sometime in the past, but its effect is still present - he still can't walk.

The simple past tense is preferred when we identify the person or thing responsible for a present situation.

Compare:

Although the process of breaking the window took place in the past, its effect is still present - the window is still broken. That is why we use a present perfect tense in this sentence.

Here the focus is on the person who performed the action. Therefore we use a simple past tense in this sentence.

More examples are given below:

The simple past tense is also used to refer to a belief that has just been shown to be true or false.

Difference between American and British English

In American English, the simple past is often used to give news. The present perfect tense is also possible, but it is rarely used. In British English the present perfect tense is preferred in this case.

Recently, some British newspapers too have regularly started using the simple past tense for news announcements. This practice is probably aimed at saving space.

In American English, the simple past tense is commonly used with indefinite past-time adverbs like already, yet, ever and before. In British English, these adverbs are almost always used with the present perfect tense.

See also

Tenses
The simple present tense
The present progressive tense
The present perfect tense
The present perfect progressive tense
Present tenses to talk about the future
The simple past tense
The past progressive tense
The past perfect tense
The past perfect progressive tense
Past verb forms with present or future meaning
The simple future tense
The future progressive tense
The future perfect tense