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It is easy to confuse the use of past tenses including the simple past, the present perfect, and the past perfect. The following is a summary of these 3 past tenses when a statement is not in the conditional (would, could, ).
We prefer using this tense whenever possible to report an event. We will use this tense to report an activity or situation that began and ended at a specified time in the past. (The specific time is either stated or implied.)
We arrived at 8:00.
I walked to my car after work. (The time is not specified, but implied is that it happened at a specific time.)
Even native speakers struggle sometimes with when it is most appropriate to use simple past or present perfect.
There are 4 different circumstances when we would use the present perfect:
1. An activity or situation that happened at an unspecified time in the past.
They have moved offices. (No specific time is indicated or implied.)
2. Repetition of an activity in the past. The exact time of the repetition is not important.
I have written to that company many times this month.
3. With the expression for or since, meaning that the event began in the past and continues until the present.
I have been in this country since I was born.
I have wanted to travel to another country for a long time.
4. The action began in the past and continues until the present time.
She has studied for the test all night. (It is still night.)
We often try to avoid using this tense if the sentence is not conditional. When we use it, we are comparing 2 events in the past, one happening before the other. The past perfect gives us a way to show which event happened first and which one followed.
The man walked through the building unnoticed. The guard had neglected to check his I.D.
The secretary had already left when the client arrived.
Note: When comparing 2 events, if before or after is used, the simple past can be used instead because the relationship of time is already clear.
After the customers left, the whole staff had a meeting.
Continue to Practice: Past Tense Verbs.