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  1. #1
    undeddy is offline Junior Member
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    Default Past Simple & Present Perfect

    I always confuse which verb form to use: either Present Perfect or Past Simple.

    I understand the difference of those forms in such sentences like "I lost my keys" & "I have lost my keys" - if we use Perfect, then it means that keys still have not be found (relation with present).

    But when it comes to choosing the right form in the following situations, I just do not understand the difference in their meaning:

    "Sorry, I forgot her name" or "Sorry, I have forgotten her name"

    "Did you see the boy running out?" or "Have you seen the boy running out?"

    "What did you say to me?!" or "What have you said to me?!"

    P.S. Do Americans use Past Simple instead of Perfect in these situatuions?

  2. #2
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    With the "I have forgotten" it either just happened (you know how that happens - one minute it's on the tip of your tongue and the next minute you simply can't remember) or you think it will come back to you. "I forgot" means it's unlikely you'll remember.

    For the others, use "Did," unless you expect the running to be a recurring activity.

    Have you seen Niagra Falls lit up at night? (Ever in your life? It can still happen.)

    You were in Buffalo last week? Did you see Niagra Falls lit up at night? (When you were on your now-completed trip)

  3. #3
    pyoung is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by undeddy View Post
    I always confuse which verb form to use: either Present Perfect or Past Simple.

    "Sorry, I forgot her name" or "Sorry, I have forgotten her name"
    In this case, the meaning is the same. Saying, 'I have forgotten her name,' softens the statement somewhat, leaving room for the possibility that you may remember her name (if you think hard enough, if you see her, etc.)

    "Did you see the boy running out?" or "Have you seen the boy running out?" 'Running out' is an action that has been completed (in this context), and is not likely to be a recurring event. So the only sentence that works here is, 'Did you see the boy running out?' 'Have you seen the boy who runs out of this building every day at 5:00?' would work, but it different from the example in your question.

    "What did you say to me?!" or "What have you said to me?!"
    "What did you say to me?!" would be my choice. "What have you said to me?!" has a different connotation. It's like the expression, "What have you done?!" which is not really a question, but means, "It looks as though you have done something which will cause serious and irreparable trouble!"

    P.S. Do Americans use Past Simple instead of Perfect in these situatuions? I am a speaker of AmE.
    I hope this is helpful.

    Petra

  4. #4
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by undeddy View Post
    I always confuse which verb form to use: either Present Perfect or Past Simple.

    I understand the difference of those forms in such sentences like "I lost my keys" & "I have lost my keys" - if we use Perfect, then it means that keys still have not be found (relation with present).

    But when it comes to choosing the right form in the following situations, I just do not understand the difference in their meaning:

    "Sorry, I forgot her name" or "Sorry, I have forgotten her name"

    "Did you see the boy running out?" or "Have you seen the boy running out?"

    "What did you say to me?!" or "What have you said to me?!"

    P.S. Do Americans use Past Simple instead of Perfect in these situatuions?
    Sometimes the choice of tense changes the meaning. At other times, you can use either tense to mean the same thing (though some people here would attempt to extract a difference). On other occasions, although the meaning is apparent, the tense sounds wrong.
    I would place your sentences in the third category, and you are right - it's not easy to know which to use.

    For 1) since the event is very much relevant to the present, you'd choose the present perfect, or even the simple present: Sorry, I forget her name"
    For 2) the correct form depends on what you want to know. If there is a specific time that you are enquiring about (for example, after a robbery occurred), you'd ask "Did you see the boy running out?" The implication is that he has only done so once or, at least you are only interested in the one time. If you want to know if the boy has ever been seen running out (for example as proof that the boy can run out, you'd ask "Have you seen the boy running out?"
    For 3) you almost certainly mean "What did you say to me?!" You are referring to a specific thing that was said - not to any and all things that the person has said to you.

    I'm afraid that only explains your example sentences. But if you read a lot, it's worth noticing tenses, and how they are used with different meanings. Because for some choices there are no rules.

    PS: Yes Americans might say "Did you ever see the boy running out", to mean "Have you ever seen ...?"
    In the other two cases, the past simple is the most likely to be appropriate, so they'd use it there too. Unfortunately, it's not possible to simply decide to use the Past Simple all the time and claim to be speaking American, since the present perfect is necessary for a lot of meanings in American English too.
    Last edited by Raymott; 06-Dec-2008 at 22:23.

  5. #5
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    PS: Yes Americans might say "Did you ever see the boy running out", to mean "Have you ever seen ...?"
    We're accused of this a lot, but it certainly isn't my experience that we do this.

    But it's true that on many ESL forums, you'll read "Americans use the simple past instead of the past perfect." (Most people who post this on the forums don't even qualify it like you just did.)

    Has it actually been your experience with American speakers that this happens (or could you be inadvertently perpetuating a false myth)?

    (We'll say "Did you ever" but it will harken to a discussion previously held about doing something. "Did you ever get to that new Indian restaurant you were telling me you wanted to try? How was it?" I would think that other variations of English use Did you ever the same way in this type of specific circumstance. Right?)

  6. #6
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    We're accused of this a lot, but it certainly isn't my experience that we do this.
    Perhaps you live in a nook where that isn't in the dialect.

    But it's true that on many ESL forums, you'll read "Americans use the simple past instead of the past perfect." (Most people who post this on the forums don't even qualify it like you just did.)
    Well, I try to be careful with the claims I make.

    Has it actually been your experience with American speakers that this happens (or could you be inadvertently perpetuating a false myth)?

    (We'll say "Did you ever" but it will harken to a discussion previously held about doing something. "Did you ever get to that new Indian restaurant you were telling me you wanted to try? How was it?" I would think that other variations of English use Did you ever the same way in this type of specific circumstance. Right?)
    Yes, it's been my experience. 2006 is one American I can quote - albeit that he is Canadian.
    But I also know it from my linguistic studies in which academic journals confirm that the use of the simple past, as in the proverbial "Did you eat breakfast yet?" is used far more often in America than elsewhere, to mean "Have you eaten breakfast yet?"
    I can post some such academic evidence if you like.

    PS: I'll add from PYoung's post that she would use "I forgot her name" as being the same as "I have forgotten her name".
    In conversation Australians, for example, would not say: "Sorry, I forgot her name" unless they were talking about something in the past. If they meant "I have forgotten her name", they would say either that, or "Sorry, I forget her name".
    Last edited by Raymott; 07-Dec-2008 at 01:52.

  7. #7
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    What about with "ever"?

    Did you ever see such a thing? vs. Have you ever seen such a thing?

    Is it related to region or education, do you think?

  8. #8
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    What about with "ever"?

    Did you ever see such a thing? vs. Have you ever seen such a thing?

    Is it related to region or education, do you think?
    The first sounds more American to me, but only by degree.

    It would have to be regional unless you postulate that Americans are less educated than other English-speakers. I'm not suggesting that.

  9. #9
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Oh well. At least hearing "Did you ever" doesn't set my teeth on edge, unlike the possible response "Yeah! I seen it!"

  10. #10
    undeddy is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Past Simple & Present Perfect

    Thank you very much for the response.You have attached some clarification in this question.

    P.S. I'm not sure about appropriateness of using 'attach' in this case and Perfect tense as well :).

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