Present perfect vs Preterite in English

Can someone please explain the difference between "I have eaten" and "I ate"

"My mother has just cleaned the house" vs "My mother just cleaned the house"

"I have not baked it" vs "I did not bake it"

"Have you bought the tickets?" "Did you buy the tickets?"

and "My mother has just gone to the store" vs "My mother just went to the store"?

Please no links, because I've read most of them, and am still confused in certain aspects of these tenses, thank you!

March 7, 2017


Hope this helps:

Present perfect = actions in the past (finished or unfinished) that have an effect in the present. "I have lost my keys" (lost the keys is in the past, but this person needs the keys now).

Preterite or simple past = for actions in the past that are complete and that we complement with a time word (yesterday, two weeks ago, last month, last year, etc, etc). "yesterday, I lost my keys" (here, the person is implying that he keys were lost yesterday but now they are not).

March 7, 2017

For the last one "has just gone" means just went and is still there and "went to the store" means went and is back now

March 7, 2017

I am pretty sure that the rest is the same

March 7, 2017

There are 4 basic times to use Present Perfect:

1) "More" in the "Now". An action happened in the current time period. "She has written 3 songs this year." There is more year left. She may write more. "I have finished 2 lessons today." Today is still happening, so I could finish more. This only works with times that include now. It cannot be used with yesterday, last year, etc.

Using Present Perfect here implies that more might happen. If you use Simple Past instead, you don't imply that more might happen.

2) "Still". An action is repeated and happening now. "I have studied every day for weeks." I am still studying today and probably tomorrow. "I have lived here for years." I still live here.

Using Simple Past here means the action has stopped. "I studied every day for weeks." I stopped studying. "I lived here for years." I no longer live here.

3) "Ever", "Already". An action has ever happened or has already happened, but no specific time is given. The time is the general past; the emphasis is on the action's impact on the present. "I have eaten apples." I have ever eaten apples in the past. I know what they taste like. "They have run this course." They have already run this course in the past, so it should be easy for them.

Using Simple Past here means the action has a specific time attached to it. "I ate apples at the party." "They ran this course last month."

4) "Never", "Yet" - with negatives only. An action has never happened or has not yet happened. "I have not baked it." I have never baked this kind before, or I plan to bake it but have not baked it yet. "I have not driven a car." I have never driven a car. "I have not written to her this week." I plan to write to her this week, but I have not written yet.

Using Simple Past here means that the specific sentence is false, but the general concept might not be. "I did not drive a car." This specific time, I drove something else or perhaps rode a train. "I did not write to her this week." I may or may not write to her in the future. My plans are unclear.

March 7, 2017

Hi Levi, really good question. I don't know in any formal sense, but I have these impressions:

With mother cleaning the house, in the first instance, she has just finished cleaning the house (sometime very recently). In the second instance, she could have just finished cleaning the house, or she could have cleaned the house any specific time in the past, but declined to do anything else (she just cleaned the house, did not bake bread or go to the store.) Still, this difference may not be because of the tense so much as because of the word "just" alone.

"I have not baked it" seems to imply you intend to bake it, you just haven't done it yet. "I did not bake it" could be something you tell someone at any time after not baking it to let them know it was never baked ("I started to make a cake for her birthday last year, but I did not bake it.") or that it was baked, but not by you (I didn't bake it, he did). Again, I may be veering away from the grammatical point you are seeking.

...As I type this I see I am really only 'sensing' what Locky explained in a more pithy way- 'Have you bought the tickets' implies that its currently relevant (because if you haven't purchased them by now, you might not get to see the show); 'Did you buy the tickets' has no implication of current necessity. (Could be a story about something completely in the past, or an inquiry as to who bought the tickets)...

March 7, 2017

Not a simple question and one that may be more of a composition or rhetoric question than a grammatical one.

In your first example, the first sentence give a clearer timeline. (The same is true with the other sentences, though in the one about the store 'just' could be interpreted in more than one way, such as 'just now' or 'only'.)

Is that temporal clarity important? Possibly, it depends upon the context and the author's intent.

A famous artist was once asked what the difference was between drawing and art. He said that drawing is putting lines on paper. Art is putting them where they belong.

Similarly, good writing means constructing not only well-formed sentences but ones that convey the author's intent. (Most of the time this means reducing ambiguity, but not always, sometimes the ambiguity is intentional.)

Disclaimer: The last time I studied grammar or composition was about 50 years ago, so someone else may refute what I've said or, more likely, say it better than I did.

March 7, 2017

You sound like a fluent English speaker! Congratulations!

March 7, 2017
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