Simple Past vs. Present Perfect

Simple Past vs. Present Perfect

When do we use the simple past, and when do we use the present perfect?

Simple Past

brown framed eyeglasses on a calendar
Photo by Leeloo Thefirst on

We use the simple past to talk about things that happened in the past and were completed in a time period that is finished.

In these Examples, yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and two days ago are all time periods that are completed.

  • Janet played tennis yesterday.
  • Jan wrote her essay last week.
  • They passed the TOEFL test last month.
  • went to New York last year.
  • She turned in her assignment two day ago.

Present Perfect

We use the present perfect when we talk about things that were completed in the past, but the time period they happened in is not yet finished.  Such as this week, this month, this year, my life. 

We usually do not use a time expression when using the present perfect because the stress is on the completed action as it relates to the present and not on the time.


  • Tom has bought a new computer, so he can complete his assignment.
  • Jan has written her essay, so she doesn’t have to study tonight.
  • They have passed the TOEFL test, so they can begin university courses.
  • have been to New York several times, so I know the city pretty well.
  • Because she has turned in her assignment, she doesn’t have to come to class today.

Present Perfect / Present Perfect Progressive

We may also use the present perfect or the present perfect progressive to talk about things that were started in the past but are not yet finished. In this case, we usually use for (a length of time) or since (a point in time).


  • have lived in New York for three years. OR I have been living in New York since I came to America.
  • Akiko has studied English for one year.  OR She has been studying English for one year.
  • He has been traveling for three days.  OR He has been traveling since Monday.


When do we use the simple past, and when do we use the present perfect? The simple answer is:

We use the simple past when both the action and the time period are completed. We use the present perfect when the action is completed, but the time period is not completed.

Richard Carrigan

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past thirteen years. He has experience teaching business English and conversational English in Asia and teaching academic English at the university level in the United States. 

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