Practical English Grammar Present Perfect vs. Simple Past

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Fluent English can ONLY be acquired by learning IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS – and that’s why I’m going to highlight them for you in RED!

Here’s how to improve your English listening skills when listening to my video: put the headphones on, playback the video and write it all down while listening to it!

Video Transcript Below:

Hi guys, hello boys and girls and welcome back to Robby’s English Harmony video blog. Currently I’m having my Monday morning tea. Cheers! You see how big, how huge this mug is? This is the kind of mug I like, you know what I mean? This is what I call proper tea drinking. You can make yourself almost a liter of tea and drink it, right?

Anyhow, in today’s video I’m going to look at the following topic:

Simple Past versus Present Simple.

And this is, as a matter of fact, a thing that confuses the hell out of so many foreign English speakers, right?

And ironically enough I haven’t actually recorded a video about this particular topic in the past which is kind of weird because I’ve been publishing my videos for years on end. At this stage it’s actually 8 years since I’m running the English Harmony blog or actually 9 years. Yeah, going 9 years this year to be honest with you. I started it in 2007 if I’m not mistaken so next year going 10 years, you know what I mean? It is going to be a big anniversary.

Anyhow, it’s surprising that I haven’t actually touched upon this particular topic comparing the simple past “I did it” for instance against present simple “I’ve done it” and when you use one or the other, you know what I mean? And the reason I’m saying that it confuses the hell out of so many foreigners is because I’ve had first-hand experience dealing with people who are not really sure on how to use these two tenses, right?

As a matter of fact, one of my Fluency Star students served as an inspiration for this video because that person was kind of not really sure on how it’s done and then I explained it to her and she was very happy about my explanation because it’s pretty straight forward if you boil it down to the very basics, right?

So first things first, “I’ve done it.” For instance “I’ve been to London” which is not really true in my case because believe it or not, I’ve never been to London, right? And it’s very weird because I live in Ireland which is very close to England, so it’s just one small hop with a plane, like a half an hour flight or something and you’re in London, you know what I mean?

And with these days’ prices where you can go to London just paying literally 20 or 30 Euros, you know what I mean? It’s no excuse not to go there but on the downside obviously when you go there you have to book a hotel and so on and so forth. And then you have to go sightseeing and all those costs add up and eventually you end up spending a fortune, you know what I mean? So I guess I’ve just kept putting it off and off and off.

And anyhow, I’m going to do it one fine day I would imagine but anyhow, going back to the subject; “I’ve been to London,” right? And then you can also say I went to London, okay? So what is the difference? First things first, you don’t have to be kind of analyzing your English language – language? What did I just say? Language.

See, I just made a mistake but it just goes to show that making mistakes is a crucial part of the whole fluency improvement thing, right? Anyhow, you see, today I’m all over the place. I just keep varying up the subject and touching upon random things.

So “I’ve been to London, right?” It’s a general statement. You’re not specifying a specific point in time. And mark this guys, point in time. This is the crucial bit, right? Whenever there is a time mentioned, a specific time, a year, a day, month, week, whatever, that’s when you use simple past.

Simple Past for Time References

I went to London last year. I went to London 10 years ago. I went to London last Monday. That’s simple past, you know? You don’t use the present tense, the simple present, “I’ve been to London” when it’s followed up with a specific time. And when I say specific time, please don’t be thinking that I’m talking about a very specific like time of the day; even a year is quite specific, right?

Perfect Simple For General Statements

So you use perfect simple only when you don’t refer to any time at all, like I mean there’s no time reference mentioned basically. No years, nothing, you know. “I’ve been to London.” And you can obviously say I’ve been to London 5 times but this time reference, you know, 5 times is not the same as referring to a particular year or a month or a day, you know? It’s just saying how many times you’ve been to London.

So I think the best way – excuse me, I’ve got to take a sip of tea. So I think that the best way of kind of wrapping your head around this concept is by kind of getting used to the concept of using the perfect present in the beginning of a story when you don’t use any time references. So basically you would say “you know what? I’ve been to London a good few times” or “as a matter of fact I’ve never been to London,” you know what I mean? And then after that point you can start using the simple past, right?

And here is how it happens. “You know what? I’ve been to London 10 times at this stage, you know. I’ve been there 10 times. Las time I went there was last summer and before that I went there every, every year for 10 years in a row,” you know? So you use the perfect simple – no, present. Sorry I’m getting all mixed up in these grammar terms but it’s just because I’m not using these grammar terms.

I’m not all about these grammar terms. If I were a traditional English teacher that would be all about the grammar terms, then I imagine I wouldn’t be getting mixed up in these terms. But I said it wrong; I said perfect simple or something. No, it’s perfect present that I wanted to say, right?

So you use perfect present “I’ve been to London” in the beginning of the story when you’re making a general statement. You’re basically stating the fact that you’ve actually been to London, you know? And then you start using the simple past.

Simple Past to Tell a Story – One Event Follows Another

I went there with my friends, so that’s kind of a storytelling, you know what I mean? When one event follows another. We went there and then we actually had booked a hotel beforehand. And now I use the past present tense.

And you may want to click on this link where I’m explaining how that would be used, basically when you’re referring to a point in time which had happened before the general story-line, right?

And then we went sightseeing and then we went to different restaurants and all the different museums and we visited the Big Ben and – what’s the palace called where the Queen lives? Westminster Palace or whatever? I’m not really familiar with these terms but anyway, you get the drift, right? So you make the general statement in the beginning and then follow it up with simple past where you tell the story, where you went, when you went there, who you went with, what you did there and so on and so forth, right?

Start With Present Perfect, Then Continue With Simple Past!

So to recap the whole thing, present perfect is used to make general statements about what you did or what you didn’t do in the past. But it’s very general. It’s lacking any references whatsoever to years, days, months, weeks, whatever, you don’t mention about it, right? But then when you start talking about specific times, that’s when you introduce the simple past, right?

So I hope that this video is going to clarify this whole issue for you and just to let you know there was a comment recently. Oh yeah. Actually 9 hours ago at this stage posted where one of my blog readers asks me where to use “gone” and “went,” right? And actually this one was the reason I actually recorded the video right now because I read the comment and then I realized hold on a second, I haven’t actually addressed this particular issue in a video. And then I remembered my Fluency Star student who had the same issue and I was like okay, let’s make a video about it!

So I hope that this video is going to be useful for you my friends. And obviously if you have any further questions please feel free to publish them in the comment section below. Thank you and bye-bye!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Yeah, I noticed that I made a few little mistakes like that, but I think that at the end of the day those who listen and read attentively will understand that they were just mistakes and it doesn’t take away from the content in any way shape or form.

  • Nick III

    It seems like I gave up listening and reading you too early. But nevertheless, I think it should be corrected.

  • Nick III

    Hi Robby,
    several times you confused Present simple and Present perfect (merely by negligence, I guess) and it is not so well bearing in mind the topic.
    Please, check out your speech and transcript
    Good luck!