Have you ever had a moment of panic in the middle of a conversation when you realize you don’t know which verb tense to use? English learners can often get tripped up on the question of verb tenses. But you can stop the panic and breathe a little easier. In this article, you’ll find our quick guide for determining whether to use the simple past or present perfect. We’ve also included some useful examples that you can use for your memorization practice!


If choosing between the simple past or present perfect is a familiar struggle for you, I have two good reasons for you not to worry any longer! First, American English speakers don’t use the present perfect very often at all. So if you’re learning American English, you probably won’t have to either! And second, this entire article is dedicated to helping you learn to make the right choice between the simple past or present perfect tense.

Here at MosaLingua, we believe strongly in making language learning a fun process. Therefore, I’d like you to try and imagine your English learning process as a game. And guess who the main character of the game is going to be? You, of course! You’ll have to solve problems, face different challenges, and unlock doors in order to reach different levels.

During this journey, you’ll reach different levels and you’ll learn how to use both the simple past and the present perfect. Without stress and without focusing too much on grammar rules. This way you’ll feel more at ease using your English in daily conversations. Let’s get started!

Level 1: Learn about the simple past

Everyone starts the game as a beginner. At this stage you just learn how to get by and how to use simple commands. This includes basic vocabulary like introductions, numbers, countries, and nationalities. Easy peasy… Here, you also learn how to use the present simple, then you move on to the past simple. You can now talk about what you did yesterday, last week, or even last summer. That’s awesome!

Present simple: I go to the pool on Saturdays.
Past simple: I went to the pool last Saturday.

Level 2: Master the simple past

Level 1 was just a warm-up. Don’t skip stages and start using the present perfect yet, because your goal for Level 2 is to become the “Master of the Simple Past.”

So at this level you really want to mingle around, play the game, and make some mistakes (so you can learn from them). When you first start Level 2, you’re still not fully comfortable using the simple past. So maybe you’re still using the simple present to refer to the past, or maybe you’re still making mistakes with irregular verbs.

When do I use the simple past?

There are a couple of keys that can help you understand when to use the simple past:

1) This tense is often accompanied by time expressions.
2) The simple past refers to actions that were completed in the past that don’t interfere with the present.

Let’s dig a little deeper into these two points:

Time expressions

These indicators are used to locate the action you’re talking about in a specific time. They can be expressed with words or phrases such as “yesterday” or “on my birthday,” “two years ago“; or even specific dates, such as “on April 21st of 2019.” Whenever you see a time expression, this is a sign that you will use the simple past. Don’t even think of using the present perfect here.

With that in mind, which of the following sentences would be correct?

Last winter, I visited Paris.
Last winter, I have visited Paris.

Highlight the text between the brackets with your cursor to see the correct answer: [The first option is correct.]

Here’s why: Because the sentence starts with a time expression (“last winter“). Therefore, you must use the simple past.

Finished actions that don’t interfere with the present

The simple past is a tense that we use to refer to an action that happened in the past, that finished in the past, and that has no relation to now, the present. So for example, if I asked you “Hey, what did you do yesterday?” What would be your answer? Would it be:

I have gone to the gym in the morning, then I have met my friend. or
I went to the gym in the morning, and then I met my friend.

Highlight the text between the brackets with your cursor to see the correct answer: [The second option is correct.]

Here’s why: Both actions “go to the gym” and “meet my friend” happened yesterday in the past, and finished yesterday too. Plus, there was a time expression here. Did you notice it? “In the morning.” That’s a big, in-your-face indicator that you have to use the simple past instead of the present perfect.

Level 3: Start using the present perfect

Now the real challenge begins, as you are introduced to another way of expressing yourself in the past through a different tense: the present perfect. The name itself is already confusing because it’s a tense that’s not really in the present and it’s not that perfect. So now you have to choose whether to use the simple past or the present perfect to talk about past actions. No need to stress out – you’re already the “Master of the Past Simple,” remember? So what are you going to do now? You’re going to start incorporating the present perfect little by little into your English.

When do I use the present perfect?

So how are you supposed to do this? Just like with the simple past, there are words and expressions within a sentence that act as indicators for the present perfect. You’re going use these specific words because they combine really well with the present perfect, and they are:

  • never
  • ever
  • just
  • already
  • yet

To make it easier and clearer for you, I’m going to give you some examples of these words in sentences, and then you can just adapt them to your own needs.

Example sentences

With the word “never,” you could say: I’ve never been to Asia. Did you notice the contraction for the verb “have”? Instead of saying “I have never,” practice saying it with the contraction, as it sounds much more natural, fluent. Then make sure to use the past participle of the verb (here, it’s “been”).

The word “ever” is often used to ask questions. For example, you could say: Have you ever eaten sushi? or Have you ever played golf before? But “ever” can also be used for negative statements. You could say: Nobody has ever done that before. “Ever” can also be used to express “the first time”: It’s the first time she’s ever been to the beach.

With the word “just”: I’ve just concluded my degree in chemistry. or I’ve just finished my homework. The word “just” indicates that the action has happened very recently.

With the word “already”: Hurry up! The guests have already arrived. or Have you already cleaned your bedroom? The word “already” shows that the action has already occurred.

With the word “yet”: I haven’t visited London yet. or Has your family arrived yet? The word “yet” means “until the present, until now.”

Example dialogue

This short dialogue makes use of all these words in their context:

– I’ve never been to Europe before.

– I’ve already been to Africa.

– Hey, have you ever been to Asia?

– No, I haven’t been to Asia yet. I’d love to go to Japan.

– Well, I’ve never been to Japan, but I’ve just come back from China!

– Really? Tell me about it.

That’s the way you want to start using the present perfect – without thinking of grammar rules too much. Just learn the words above and make up your own sentences. Then, use them in your daily conversations. You’re already the Master of the Simple Past, and soon you’ll also become the Master of the Present Perfect!

Level 4: Master of the Present Perfect

Finally, this is the last level. This level is for experts. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. In this level you’re going to understand the subtle differences between both tenses. In some cases, it’s wrong to use one tense instead of the other, but on some occasions you can actually use either. Here are some examples:

I finished all my homework. / I have finished all my homework.
I made a mistake. / I’ve made a mistake.

When you use the present perfect, the action refers to something closer to “now.” “I’ve made a mistake” sounds as if the person made a mistake only moments ago, and I can already picture them reaching out for their eraser to correct that mistake on their paper.

However, remember what I said at the beginning of the video: Americans don’t use the present perfect that much. They definitely use it with the words just, never, ever, already, and yet, but apart from that, not very much. So Level 4 is actually optional, really!


We’ve reached the end of the game! The good news is that with English or any other language, there is never really a GAME OVER. And your lives are endless! So continue practicing your English, or shall I say “playing” with your English!

WATCH – Simple Past vs. Present Perfect Conversation

You can watch Lisa-Joy’s video on this topic below. The video is in English, but subtitles are available in several languages. You can also adjust the playback speed. Simply click on the Settings gear in the bottom right corner.

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