Do you know the difference between the simple past and present perfect verb tenses in English Grammar?
Why do I need to know these verb tenses?
According to the TOEFL iBT rubrics used to grade your speaking and writing tasks, you will need to demonstrate good control of language use. One crucial area pertaining to your language use comprises how accurate you are with your verb tenses.
As you complete your speaking and writing tasks, you will need to use verb tenses so that you can fully express your ideas. Therefore, using the simple past and the present perfect verb tenses correctly will show ETS’s artificial scoring engines and iBT human raters that you have no grammar limitations. In short, more complete and accurate grammar control will help you to score higher on the speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL iBT.
Understanding the simple past verb tense
Typically, the simple past is used to convey an idea that has a clear beginning and ending in the past with no connection to the present timeline.
- Last year, my father retired from a company for which he had worked for more than 37 years.
- For more than 37 minutes, the professor droned on and on about the process of photosynthesis.
- Because I missed the last two lectures of the semester, I did not do well on my final exam in biology.
In the three sentences above, I used simple past tense verbs (i.e., retired, droned, missed, did) to convey ideas that had clearly begun and ended in the past.
Using the present perfect verb tense
In many cases, the present perfect verb tense is used to refer to an action that began in the past but continues up until the moment of speaking.
- Laxton has lived in San Bernardino for more than 35 years.
- Sharon has studied at the university for three years now.
- My friend has read more than 534 books in her lifetime.
I used the present perfect verb tenses in these three sentences to refer to an action that started in the past but continues into the present timeframe:
- Laxton still lives in San Bernardino.
- Sharon continues to study at the university.
- My friend continues to read books.
Comparing the simple past versus the present perfect
Both the simple past and the present perfect can refer to an action that begins in the past.
- The driver finished the event in record time.
- The driver has started the race.
In both sentences, the driver clearly started driving in the past. However, in the second sentence, the driver is still participating in the event.
The simple past refers to an action that begins AND ends in the past. However, the present perfect refers to an action that begins in the past and continues until the present moment.
- The man lived in San Bernardino for 25 years.
- The man has lived in San Bernardino for 25 years.
In the first sentence, the man no longer lives in San Bernardino, but in the second sentence, the man still lives in San Bernardino.
Practice Exercise for the simple past versus the present perfect
Choose the verb tense that correctly completes the sentence. Click to see the correct answer.
- Since 1997, Mark________for Hewlett Packard in Boulder Colorado.
B. has worked
2. In 1997, Paula________from California State University, San Bernardino with a BA Degree in Criminal Justi.
A. has graduated
3. What movies_______ recently?
A. have you seen
B. will you seen
4. So far this year, Lana_______ more than 23 sales presentations for her company.
A. has completed
5. Before leaving for the party with his friends, Paul________ to shut his backdoor, and two snakes slithered into his room.
A. has forgotten
6. Over the last few years and until now, Kentaro_________ to his family, but maybe at some point he will make things right.
A. has not spoken
B. did not speak
7. From 1994-2013, my father_______for a textile company in Orlando, Florida.
A. has worked
8. I_________ at several cars over the last three weeks, but I have not found anything that I really want to buy.
B. have looked
9. Most of the students who had viewed the professor’s Zoom presentation__________ the point he was trying to make about economic inflation.
A. did not understand
B. have not understood
10. Many of the students__________ the midterm exam, but some still have a few more questions to answer.
A. will already complete
B. have already completed
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