Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Englisch Macht Spaß

Tenses in Pairs, Part 2

It’s that time of the week again, time to get yourself sorted with a cup of tea or coffee/glass of wine, and dive back into the world of the delightfully deceptive, sneaky, spiky English language. Ready?

Let’s go!

Last week we looked at two tenses – Present Continuous and Present Simple – that are often confused, and compared their uses. We also looked at some signal words that can help tell us when one tense needs to be used instead of another.

This week we’re doing the same again – looking at two tenses and comparing them – except this week those tenses are …

Past Simple and Present Perfect

For Germans, telling the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect can be tricky because, even though German has both tenses, German speakers tend to use them interchangeably. This is especially the case in spoken German.

In English, though, there is a distinct difference between the two tenses and misusing them can be quite confusing for your conversation partner.


Past Simple is…

  • S + verb(ed) — I walked to school.
  • S + didn’t + verb — I didn’t walk to school.
  • Did + S + verb — Did you walk to school?

Present Perfect is …

  • S + have/has + 3rd form — I have ridden a horse. // He has ridden a horse.
  • S + haven’t/hasn’t + 3rd form — I haven’t ridden a horse. // She hasn’t ridden a horse.
  • Have/has + S + 3rd form — Have you ridden a horse? // Has he ridden a horse?

Okay … let’s take a closer look.

Past Simple is used …

  • to talk about an action that started and finished in the past and has no connection to the present. –> ‘I ate five brownies yesterday.’
  • to talk about events that occurred in a time period that has finished – childhood, school years, a job that ended. –> ‘I went to school in Australia’ or, ‘I worked at McDonalds for three years.’
  • this includes talking about a person if they are now deceased. Their lifetime, as a time period, has finished. –> ‘Marilyn Monroe starred in more than twenty films.’ NOT ‘Marilyn Monroe has starred in more than twenty films.’ 

SIGNAL WORDS are specific time words and expressions that tell us when the action occurred:

  • yesterday
  • last year
  • last week
  • 2002, 1995, this morning, yesterday afternoon, when I was a child, when I was at school, when I lived in Singapore …

Present Perfect is used …

  • to talk about events that have occurred in the past but have a connection to the present. ‘I feel sick because I have just eaten five brownies.’
  • when you want to tell someone you have done something, but now when you did it. –> ‘I have been to the USA.’ It is important you know that the Present Perfect is not concerned about when you did something. It is only concerned with the fact that you have done it.
  • when you have recently done something. ‘Have you read War and Peace?’ ‘Yes, I have just finished it!’
  • when you are talking about your own experiences or achievements – ‘I have won Wimbledon three times’ or ‘I have been to Japan many times.’
  • when you are talking about someone else’s experiences and achievemnts, if they are still alive. ‘Daniel Craig has made three James Bond films’ or ‘Roger Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles.’


  • just – I just spoke to your Mum!
  • yet – I haven’t seen that movie yet.
  • still – Have you still got that book I gave you?
  • already – I have already mown the lawn.
  • never – I have never seen a dolphin.
  • so far – I am reading the Bible, but have only read two pages so far.
  • words that show frequency – twice, many times, a few times, etc. – I have been to Brussels twice.

Check out these great exercises here and here. You need to choose between Past Simple or Present Perfect – excellent practice.

Want a table? I know you do …

pr per and pa si

And let’s see how our timeline is going. Note that the Past Simple event has started (first cross) and finished (second cross) in the past but the Present Perfect covers an ongoing time period in which a event could have occurred at any point before the present.

timeline pc ps pp pasi

Okey dokey, let’s leave it there for this week. Next week I will be away, gorging on Italian food and wine, so there won’t be an Englisch Macht Spaß post. But, you have plenty to catch up on! Look at all of this English goodness …

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1

For extra brownie points, here is a wonderful article on prepositions to use with the word ‘bored’ and a look at that awful word-that-is-not-a-word, ‘irregardless’.

And because this is just fantastic, here is a wonderful video from 102 year old Ed Rondthaler on the ridiculousness of English spelling.

Any questions, ideas, comments? You know the drill; email me, Tweet me or leave a comment below.

See you later!

What do you think?