My students really struggle with when to use ‘I did’ and when to use ‘I have done’.
Now, ‘I did’ is the past simple.
We use the past simple when we are talking about something that we finished in the past.
Importantly it has a specific time attached to it, like: “I went into town yesterday.”
‘Yesterday’ is the time; it is a specific time.
Now I am going to talk about these times as time zones, because this will really help with this film, and hopefully by the end of this film, you will know exactly when to say ‘I did’ and when to say ‘I have done’.
When my students come to me with a question about the present perfect, I say, “What is the present perfect?”
They say, “it started in the past and it still applies now.”
But what does that actually mean?
Well, let’s look at the time zone and let’s give us an example…
If I say, “I have seen my friends today”,
I’m talking about today; the time zone is ‘today’.
I am still in ‘today’, so I can say, “I have seen my friends today”, because I am still in that time zone.
However if I talk about ‘this morning’ and now I am in ‘this afternoon’, ‘this morning’ has gone.
So then I would say: “I saw my friends this morning.”
Then we use past simple, because we’re talking about a time zone that has gone.
So if I talk about ‘today’, I am still in the time zone ‘today’.
Then I say: “I have seen”
If I talk about ‘this morning’ and ‘this morning’ has gone, then I say: “I saw”
If we take the example “I have done my homework this week”, then we are still in ‘this week’.
If I say “On Monday I did my homework”, then ‘Monday’ has already gone.
That’s why I use the past simple…
“I did my homework on Monday.”
(Or “On Monday I did my homework”)
But if we are talking about ‘this week’ – if you say ‘this week’, then you are talking about the time zone that we are still in.
Then we have to use the present perfect… I have done “I have done my homework this week.”
It doesn’t matter when I did my homework; I have done my homework – this week.
Let’s look at the example “My friend has finished his project.”
Here we do not have a time zone in the sentence, so how do we know whether we are going to use the past simple or the present perfect?
So let’s find out what the time zone is…
My friend has finished his project.
The teacher set a project and – up until now – my friend has finished it, so the time zone is: ‘from the teacher setting the project up until now’, and we are still in that time zone.
That is why we use the present perfect.
If I say “My friend did not finish his homework last week”, ‘last week’ has gone – the time zone of ‘last week’ has gone.
That is why we say: “My friend did not finish his homework last week.”
(Or “Last week my friend did not finish his homework.”)
We can put the time either at the end or at the front of the sentence.
With the example “I have watched this film”, what is the time zone?
The time zone is ‘in my lifetime’.
So, in my whole life – up until now – I have watched this film.
I am not giving you any information about when I watched that film.
(It doesn’t matter!)
I have watched this film in my lifetime – up until now, so this is why I think my students say “I started it in the past and it still applies now.”
Now it gets a little bit trickier, because it always does, of course…
Let’s go back to the past simple…
Let’s go back to ‘I did’…
When I say, “I did my homework at school”, where’s my time?
The time is ‘when I was at school’, so although ‘at school’ is actually a ‘place’, we are talking about ‘the time that I was at school’.
If I am talking to one of my daughters and I say “Did you hand in your project?”
where’s the time zone?
Well… my daughter knows and I know that she has to hand in a project, and so we both know about the time.
We know she had to hand in when she was in a specific lesson, so even though the time is not in a sentence, she knows and I know what the time is.
I do not need to say “Did you hand in your project during your English lesson?” or “Did you hand in your project today at school?” or “Did you hand in your project when you saw your teacher?”
She knows and I know what we are talking about, and that time zone has gone.
So with the past simple, with words like “I did”, “I went”, “I saw”, “I watched”, we use these when we are talking about a time zone that has finished.
When we say ‘I have seen’, “I have watched”, “I have done”, “I have gone”, then we are talking about time zone that we are still in.
HOW DO WE FORM THE PAST SIMPLE?
With irregular verbs, we look at the verb table and we use the word in the second row, and we use this word for all subjects.
When we have a regular verb, then we just add -ed to the end of the verb.
If the verb already ends in E, we don’t add an extra e; then we just add a D.
If the verb ends with a Y and the y is the last sound, like with ’empty’ or ‘carry’ or ‘tidy’, – but not with ‘play’, then we change the Y to an i and add ED.
HOW DO WE FORM THE PRESENT PERFECT?
We take the correct part of the verb ‘have’ and we add the past participle.
Now the past participle is the word in the third row of verb tables, if we are talking about an irregular verb.
With regular verbs, we are actually just using the past simple form as our past
Remember it is: I have you have we have they have
but he / she / it has.
ADVERBS OF FREQUENCY
When we have finished something in the past, and we use words like ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ or ‘regularly’ or ‘usually’, we have to use the present perfect, because those words – those ‘adverbs of frequency’ – which show how frequently – how often – we do something, they show that we have done something more than once.
When we are talking about the past simple, we say: “I went into town yesterday.”
We went once.
Whereas if we say: “I have always gone into town with my friends.”
– that means we have done something more than once.
If we have an ‘adverb of frequency’ in our sentence, and we are talking about the past, then we have to use the present perfect.
Often… I have often been to London – or I have been to London often.
(Adverbs of frequency can usually go in more than one place in a sentence.)
They have sometimes slept at my house – or
Sometimes they have slept at my house.
I have frequently had lunch with my friends.
So just to be clear, if we have a sentence like “I saw that band last summer”, ‘last summer’ has finished.
I saw the band once, so therefore I can say ‘I saw’ and not ‘I have seen’, because ‘last summer’ is a time zone that has finished.
This brings me to an issue…
How do I talk about ‘when I was younger’, because ‘when I was younger’ is a time zone that has finished.
However maybe I did something several times.
Well then I use the structure ‘I used to’.
So when I was younger, I used to play the piano.
When I was younger, I used to live in England.
When I was younger, I used to have an apartment.
When I was younger, I used to be very bad at history.
CAN I ASK A QUESTION IN THE PRESENT PERFECT AND ANSWER IN THE PAST SIMPLE?
If I ask you the question “What have you done today?”
The time zone is ‘today’ and we are still in today, so you can say:
I have been to school.
I have seen my friends.
I have had lunch with my mum.
I have finished my homework, and
I have walked the dog.
You have not given me any information about when you did things; you have just said ‘I have done these things’ – up until now.
However you could also say:
I went to school at half past eight.
Then I saw my friends during the break.
After school I had lunch with my
Then I finished my homework and
after my homework, I walked the dog.
Here you are giving me all different time zones, and these time zones have all finished.
THE PRESENT PERFECT SIGNAL WORDS
There are seven ‘signal words’ that show us that we can use the present perfect.
These signal words are what I like to call my JESYFAN words, which are the initials of the seven words.
Let’s take these words one at a time…
Just… I have just finished my homework.
Now if I say: “I have just finished my homework”, ‘just’ could be one minute ago, or it could be two hours ago.
It is not a specific time, so we say: “I have just finished my homework.”
Now if I say to you: “You do not look very nice today!”
YUou could say to me: “What did you just say?”
That ‘just’ is a specific time, because I just said to you: “You do not look very nice today!”
(So that was about a minute ago), and you say to me: “What did you just say?”
So that ‘just’… you know the time that you’re talking about and I know the time that I’m talking about, and so it’s a specific time.
If ‘just’ is not specific, weuse the present perfect…
“I have just finished my homework.”
But if we know when ‘just’ was, then we can use the past simple…
“What did you just say?”
I just said that you didn’t look very nice today.
(Let’s move on…)
Ever… We can only use the word ‘ever’ in a question.
I cannot say: “I have ever been to Spain.”
But I can say: “Have you ever been to Spain?”
So in a question, we use the word ‘ever’…
“Have you ever…” (in the timezone ‘in your lifetime – up until now’)…
“Have you ever been to Spain?”
Since… Now ‘since’ is also a little bit tricky, because we can say: “I have lived in this house since 2009.”
We can also say: “I have been living in this house since 2009.”
‘I have lived’ is the present perfect.
‘I have been living’ is the present perfect continuous, because I continue to live in this house.
So you can use either, but I would say: “I have been living in this house since 2009”, if I wanted people to know that I am still living here.
WHY CAN I NOT SAY: “I HAVE BEEN KNOWING YOU FOR 10 YEARS?”
(Or “I have been knowing you SINCE last year.”)
There are about 30 different verbs that we cannot add -ing onto, like ‘know’…
I know you or I do not know you.
We cannot say: “I am knowing you.”
So therefore we cannot say: “I have been knowing you.”
With these verbs we can only use the present perfect, so we can only say: “I have known you since you were a baby.”
“I have liked this band since I first heard their music.”
“I have believed in you since I first met you.”
(Just one last thing about ‘since’…)
I can say: “I have lived here since 2009″, or I can say: I have lived here since I left school”, or “…since I moved to the Netherlands.”
The part of a sentence – the phrase that ‘since’ is in – we use the past simple in there… “…since I left school”.
(We do not say: “Since I have left school”, because we are talking about ‘since the time that I left school’ or ‘since the time that I moved to the Netherlands’.
Yet… I can only use ‘yet’ in a question or in a negative sentence, so I can say: “Have you finished your dinner yet?”
Or I can say: “I have not finished my dinner yet.”
I cannot say: “I have finished my dinner yet.”
Then I would say: “I have already finished my dinner.”
– or something like that.
But I cannot say: “I have finished my dinner yet.”
‘Yet’ is easy; we can only use the present perfect if we have ‘yet’ in the sentence.
For… ‘For’ is similar to ‘since’…
I can either say: “I have lived in this house for ten years.”
Or: “I have been living in this house for ten years.”
We can either use the present perfect or we can use the present perfect continuous, because I continue to live in this house.
Already… I can only use ‘already’ in a positive sentence.
I cannot use it in a negative sentence.
I can say: “I have already cleaned my teeth.”
I cannot say: “I have not already cleaned my teeth.”
(Then I would say: “I have not cleaned my teeth yet.”)
I can use ‘already’ in a question, but only if I am quite surprised about the situation.
So if I say: “Have you already finished your homework?”
“Have you finished your homework already?”
That is how I use ‘already’ in a question.
Never… I can only use ‘never’ in a negative sentence, obviously…
I have never been to France.
I have never watched this film.
I can use it in a question, but only if – once again – I am dubious.
So if I say: “Have you never overslept?”
That means I cannot believe that somebody has never overslept – that they have never stayed in bed for too long.
I hope this film has cleared up any questions that you had about when to use the past simple and when to use the present perfect.
All the information from today’s film is in the Description Section below, and there are also links to exercises that will help you with your English.
If you still have questions, or if you would like to ask me about
anything to do with English, please let me know in the Comment Section.
The indefinite article a / an is quite tricky; it is easy to say that we place ‘an’ in front of a word that starts with a vowel, like an apple, an electric kettle, an Italian, an option, but when it comes to the vowel u, it is not always clear what to do. The ‘silent h’ also poses problems. Try this exercise and then look at the answers, with an explanation. Hopefully it will make everything clear.