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Every morning, I have to speak in English. Suppose that today is Monday.

Do these two sentences convey the same meaning?

On Friday, I had finished the work.

"Had" is used here because it is past perfect.

I have finished the work.

I.e. the work has been finished without mentioning any timeline.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The difference between present and past perfect is in where your temporal focus is.

"On Friday, I had finished the work" means that for some reason I am talking about the state of things on Friday, and that that state included the fact that I had finished the work.

It does not strictly imply that I finished it on Friday, just that by some time on Friday it was finished. (In most contexts, it would be taken to imply that I finished it on Friday, but not necessarily: "Every day last week I sat down to do a bit more on this job. On Friday, I had finished the work, and so I went out to the pub instead").

"I have finished the work" similarly focuses on the state of affairs now, and says that by now, the work is finished. I might have finished it on today, or any day before, including Friday. The longer ago I finished it, the less likely it is to have relevance to the state of affairs now, and so the less likely I am to use the present perfect; but I still might do so if something causes the fact to be relevant now.

The simple past that other writers have mentioned has a different focus. "I finished it on Friday" is a simple fact, with no focus on the state of affairs either on Friday or today.

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If you say "I had finished the work on Friday" I think that excludes you from actually finishing on Friday itself. You would have to finish it by Thursday midnight if you "had finished it on Friday." However, you could fairly argue with me on this since Friday could mean any time on Friday, say Friday 5pm, and you finished Friday 4pm. However, I think the implication is that by Friday the work was already complete. –  Fraser Orr May 20 '11 at 16:31
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@Fraser Orr: I disagree. A chronological order of finishing would be I had finished the work before Friday; I had finished by Friday; I had finished on Friday; I finished on Friday. –  Marthaª May 20 '11 at 22:21
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@FraserOrr: I think there are actually two different readings for "I had finished the work on Friday": 1) "At some unspecified but contextually recoverable time it was the case that I had completed the work at some time on Friday", and 2) "At some time on Friday it was the case that at some unspecified time before then (maybe on Friday and maybe not) I had completed the work". I think the second reading is more likely with the original sentence "On Friday, I had finished the work", but the first reading is more likely if the comma is omitted: "On Friday I had finished the work". –  Colin Fine May 21 '11 at 8:49

There is a difference in the two meanings, which you are hinting at already in your question.

By using the past perfect in "On Friday, I had finished the work", you are saying that the work was completed on that day, and you would imply that the work occurred over a time period. Using the simple past "On Friday, I finished the work" (I feel) conveys essentially this same meaning.

By using the present perfect "I have finished the work", you are saying that the work was completed sometime before now, but without specifying when that happened. An important note (mentioned in the linked reference) on present perfect tense is that you should not use it with specific time words. For instance, it would be improper to say "On Friday, I have finished the work."

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Hmmm. "I came in a bit early every day and worked to clear the backlog after my week off. But on Friday I had finished the work, so I came in at the normal time". That work wasn't completed on that day. –  FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 14:34
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@FumbleFingers I think your usage still suggests that Friday was the day you finished. If you said "But by Friday" or "But before Friday" that would suggest that the work was not completed on that day, but rather at a time prior to Friday. I suppose that might be a regional difference though. –  KitFox May 20 '11 at 15:46

Following the KISS principle, don't bother with either had or have. Both sentences would still be perfectly ok.

As to whether the two sentences differ in meaning, OP's post already answers that question correctly anyway.

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+1 for name of the principle, worth remembering. –  user8568 May 20 '11 at 13:52
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They would be OK, but they would not mean the same thing. KISS is fine as long as you don't lose anything by it. –  Colin Fine May 20 '11 at 14:24

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