The past tense and the present perfect tense

How do we know when to use the present perfect tense and when to use the past tense? How are they different?

Many students find the perfect tenses difficult to manage. Here are some tips to remember.

  1. The past tense is used to talk about a finished action.

    e.g. I saw her last night.

    The present perfect tense is used to talk about:

    (a) a recently finished action 
    e.g. I've just seen her.

    (b) an unfinished action
    e.g. I have been a teacher for ten years. (We don't know when they will stop teaching.)

    (c) an action that affects the present
    e.g. I have eaten lunch. (... so you don't want any more food)

  2. We often use the present perfect tense with these words.

    (a) just
    e.g. I've just seen Chow Yunn Fat in the MTR!

    (b) already
    e.g. I've been to Singapore already. I want to go to Thailand next time.

    (c) yet
    e.g. I haven't seen the Big Buddha yet.
    e.g. Have you finished your homework yet?

    (d) since / for
    e.g. I've been at this school since September.
    e.g. I've been at this school for three years.

    (e) ever
    e.g. Have you ever eaten snake?

  3. We often use the past tense with these words.

    (a) yesterday
    e.g. Did Chelsea win yesterday?

    (b) last
    e.g. Pauline got married last week.

    (c) ago
    e.g. My mother came to Hong Kong twenty years ago.

  4. We usually use the present perfect tense to talk about places we've visited. 

    e.g. I've been to Japan three times.

  5. If the time of finishing the action is mentioned, use the past tense instead of the present perfect tense. 

    e.g. I went to Japan last summer. Correct
    e.g. I have been to Japan last summer. wrong
We hope this helps!