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  1. Guy TM
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    #1

    Red face Past simple:present perfect

    Coming from a teacher (me) this sounds dim, but I can't figure out an answer.

    I was asked by an advanced student "What's the difference between 'Did you go to work today?' and 'Have you been to work today?' if it is still the same day, maybe late in the afternoon or the evening.

    Possibly one is more American English than the other.
    Possibly it is in the answer one expects. The first might give a yes/no answer the second might be asked becasue there is still an apparent effect from a past action.

    I didn't want to waffle, so I said I'd ask my colleagues. They're very bright and switched on but unable to provide me with a convincing answer. Is there a convincing answer or is it simply one of the occasions where both forms are okay?

    I shouldn't be getting so worked up about something so simple but I feel I'm getting an OCD aboput it.

    Thanks

    Guy

  2. BobK's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Past simple:present perfect

    You're right to think that one can sound more American. But that isn't the whole story. Both are possible in Br English, and neither sounds 'more American', when the context is appropriate:

    [regular 9-5.00 worker, being asked in the late afternoon/evening]
    Did you go to work today? [That is, the time is appropriate for me to ask whether you conformed to your regular schedule]

    [shift worker, or just someone who habitually works at different times on different days]
    Have you been to work today [or is this one of the days when you go in late]?

    That's all I've time for now. I'll try to think whether there's a general rule; but this is the way I see this specific example.

    b

  3. BobK's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Past simple:present perfect

    PS Apart from the difference in tenses there is the difference between the verbs: Been= gone and come back:

    'No you can't see John this afternoon; he's gone to America' [that is, he's still there]
    'The best person to ask is John; he's been to America' [that is, he's come back]

    b


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    #4

    Re: Past simple:present perfect

    Did you go to work today?' and 'Have you been to work today?'

    It is important to separate out meaning that we automatically layer on to a sentence because of knowledge/experience of the whole surrounding circumstances, from what the sentence is actually saying.

    Did you go to work today? All this refers to is whether the person made the physical journey into his workplace. Where we start adding the meaning, is that we confuse the use of 'to work' in the sentence as being the verb form, as in= 'he works as a teacher', with the noun 'work' = the kind of work I do. THERE IS NO INTRINSIC MEANING IN THE SENTENCE THAT WORK WAS PERFORMED.
    In the sentence, 'work' is the NOUN, as much a noun as in "Did you go to the shops today?" The full sentence would be, "Did you go (in) to your place of work today?" We ASSUME that 'going in' means doing a full days work, because that's what we all usually do! Compare with the verb form: Did you go to his house to work on his car and get it running?
    The question is asking for a bald statement of fact - yes or no.

    Compare this with the present perfect version: 'Have you been to work today?'
    The tense links an act in the past (going in/not going in), with its consequences for the present and even the future. Imagine a mother, arms akimbo, levelling that question at her teenage son. Just let the boy say 'no' and the mother will make the link for him, "because if you didn't then..." or 'keep that up and you won't have a job to go to." That is, there is a new emphasis on the possible consequences of the past action for the present and future.
    "Did you go to work today?" is asking for a bald statement of fact, yes or no. It's our experience that tells us, whichever form that mother used, 'did you go' or 'have you been', let the answer be 'no' and it will be the same as if she had used the present perfect - she will have something to say about it!

    SO - YES - YOU HAD THE ANSWER YOURSELF : The first might give a yes/no answer the second might be asked becasue there is still an apparent effect from a past action.
    Last edited by David L.; 23-Apr-2008 at 15:03.

  4. BobK's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Past simple:present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by David L. View Post
    ....arms akimbo....
    Good word! I doubt whether it'll mean much to many readers, but that's what dictionaries are for!

    b

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