Past Simple vs. Present Perfect when talking about travel experiences

A: Did you ever go to Paris? Yes, I did
B: When you went to Paris?
A: I go to Paris last Summer with my family.
B: Was good? Yes.

If you think this conversation is an example of good grammar then you need stop taking drugs immediately. Unfortunately, this is often a typical conversation I hear in the classroom, outside the classroom and even sometimes on the grammar-less streets of London. However, if everybody spoke English perfectly, I wouldn’t have a job and I love my job so, I guess every cloud has a silver lining.*

What’s wrong with it? Well, I’m a total grammar nerd so, a lot to be honest </insert angry face>.

Take a look at the conversation above between two people. What are they talking about? Travel – right, simple enough I suppose. But, what grammar tenses do they use? Ok, I’ll be nice and give you a clue, there are two of them.

If you said Past Simple and Present Perfect then DING DING DING – winner winner, chicken dinner.

Ok, good but why do we use these tenses?

If this is you right now, don’t worry. Ok, maybe worry but continue reading anyway.

Past Simple

Why? finished/completed action (specific time, specific event, SPECIFIC!)

Form: verb in past (went, ate, visited, had)

subject + verb (past simple)
+ ~ I went to Paris last Summer
+ ~ He/She got drunk in the club last night

subject + did not (didn't) + verb (base)
- ~ I didn't go to Paris last Summer
- ~ He/She didn't get drunk in the club last night

(wh) + did + subject + verb (base)
Q ~ Did you go to Paris last Summer?
A ~ Yes, I did/No, I didn't

Q ~ Did he/she get drunk in the club last night?
A ~ Yes, he/she did/No, he/she didn't

Present Perfect

Why? finished action without a specific time – the time is not important but the action is important.

Form: have/has + past participle (gone, eaten, visited, had)

subject + have + past participle
+ ~ I have travelled to Greece
+ ~ She has eaten escargot in France

subject + have not (haven't) + past participle
- ~ I haven't travelled to Greece?
- ~ She hasn't eaten escargot in France

Have/Has + subject + past participle
Q ~ Have you travelled to Greece?
A ~ Yes, I have/No, I haven't

Q ~ Has she eaten escargot in France?
A ~ Yes, she has/No, she hasn't

Present Perfect vs. Past Simple

So we use the Past Simple to talk about finished actions and we use the present perfect to talk about finished actions. Students: Teacher, what the fuck?

If you’re asking about the action and the time is not important use Present Perfect. Now, because the time isn’t important it won’t make sense to use a specific time expressions

If you’re asking about the time, any other kind of specific details or you already know the action happened use Past Simple. More specific time expressions can be used with Past Simple but not with Present Perfect as I pointed out previously.

Here are some typical time expressions we can use with the Past Simple or Present Perfect. Notice that the time expressions used with the Past Simple are more specific than the time expressions used with the Present Perfect.

Past Simple

Present Perfect

  • ago
  • yesterday
  • in 1990
  • last night week/month/year
  • when
  • just
  • already
  • yet
  • ever/never
  • recently
  • since/for

Have a look at the examples below. Do you think they are correct or incorrect? Which are correct/incorrect? Why? When you think you have the right answers click on the link under the questions to check.

 1. Have you ever been to Thailand? 
2. I have had sausages for lunch at half past one.            
3. She has enjoyed herself at the party last night.    
4. I've read that book but I didn't like it much.
5. Tom has left school one year ago.
6. My cousins have lived in Dublin 10 years ago.
7. I have eaten lunch one hour ago.
8. My parents have travelled to England last year.
9. James has made a cake yesterday.
10. I've washed the car. It looks great now.
CLICK TO SEE ANSWERS


ANSWERS
1. Have you ever been to Thailand? – correct – no specific time
2. I have had sausages for lunch at half past one. – incorrect – specific time
3. She has enjoyed herself at the party last night. – incorrect – specific time
4. I’ve read that book but I didn’t like it much. – correct – no specific time
5. Tom has left school one year ago. – incorrect – specific time
6. My cousins have lived in Dublin 10 years ago. – incorrect – specific time
7. I have eaten lunch one hour ago. – incorrect – specific time
8. My parents have travelled to England last year. – incorrect – specific time
9. James has made a cake yesterday. – incorrect – specific time
10. I’ve washed the car. It looks great now. – correct – no specific time


Let’s now go back and take a look at the conversation in the beginning of this post and see where they went wrong.

A: Did you ever go to Paris? Yes, I did
There is no specific time,the past simple is used and notice 'ever' - do we use 'ever' with past simple?
B: When you went to Paris?

Incorrect form for a past simple question
A: I go to Paris last Summer with my family.

Is this present or past?
B: Was good? Yes

Was what good?

It should look more like this, right?

A: Have you ever gone to Paris? Yes, I have
B: When did you go to Paris?
A: I went to Paris last Summer with my family.
B: Was it good? Yes, it was

Now I want you to try and complete the dialogue below using Past Simple and Present Perfect. When you’re finished click the link below to check your answers.

A: ______ you ______ (travel) to Mexico?
B: Yes, I ______.
A: When ______ you ______ (go) to Mexico?
B: I ______ (go) to Mexico last Summer with my family and ______ (see) so many amazing things.
A: How long ______ you ______ (stay) in there?
B: We ______ (stay) in Mexico for about two weeks and then we ______ (go) to New York for the last weekend before we ______ (fly) back home.
A: Where ______ you ______ (go) in Mexico?
B: We ______ (go) to Cancun.
A; What ______ you ______ (do) in Mexico?
B: We ______ (go) to the beach, we ______ (visit) Chichen Itza, we ______ (go) snorkeling with sharks which was really scary but I ______ (survive) and we ______ (watch) a Mexican wrestling match!
A: Why ______ you ______ (go) to Mexico?
B: A friend of my mum's ______ (recommend) to go after she ______ (go) to Mexico the previous Summer.
A: What ______ you ______ (eat) there?
B: We ______ (eat) the most delicious food and it's very different to the food you usually find in Mexican restaurants in London. I would love to eat Mexican food every day but I think I would get very fat.
A: ______ you ______ (like) it?
B: I ______ (love) it! You should go next year. I think you would love it!
CLICK TO SEE ANSWERS


ANSWERS
A: Have you travelled to Mexico?
B: Yes, I have.
A: When did you go to Mexico?
B: I went to Mexico last Summer with my family and saw so many amazing things.
A: How long did you stay in there?
B: We stayed in Mexico for about two weeks and then we went to New York for the last weekend before we flew back home.
A: Where did you go in Mexico?
B: We went to Cancun.
A; What did you do in Mexico?
B: We went to the beach, we visited Chichen Itza, we went snorkeling with sharks which was really scary but I survived and we watched a Mexican wrestling match!
A: Why did you go to Mexico?
B: A friend of my mum’s recommended to go after she went to Mexico the previous Summer.
A: What did you eat there?
B: We ate the most delicious food and it’s very different to the food you usually find in Mexican restaurants in London. I would love to eat Mexican food every day but I think I would get very fat.
A: Did you like it?
B: I loved it! You should go next year. I think you would love it!


Thanks for reading guys and I hope you learnt something. If you have any questions, ask Google.


APPENDIX

*IDIOM: ‘‘every cloud has a silver lining‘. If you say that every cloud has a silver lining, you mean that every sad or unpleasant situation has a positive side to it.

You broke your leg yesterday? Well, that’s not good but hey, you didn’t have to go to school this week – every cloud has a silver lining!

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