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What's the difference between these two phrases?

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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To add to Martha's answer:

  • The simple past ("Did you see this") refers about an event in the past
  • The present perfect ("Have you seen this") suggests a link with the present time.

If "this" is something you could have seen but cannot anymore now (you should have been there seeing "this" at the time, but it wouldn't have the same impact if you see it again now), then "Did you see" is more appropriate.
It is about an event that happened once in the past.

If "this" is something you can check it out whenever you want, "Have you seen" is more to the point, because it suggests that, if you haven't seen it in the past, you could consider seeing it now or in the near future.
It is about an event which can happen again or is still relevant in the present.

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Typo: Did you seen → Did you see. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 10 '10 at 13:48
    
@Tsuyoshi Ito: thank you. I have fixed this, err... "typo" ;) –  VonC Nov 10 '10 at 13:55
    
I do not get it. It was a typo, wasn’t it? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 10 '10 at 14:05
    
@Tsuyoshi: it was a bit too big for a typo (meaning: I shouldn't have made it in the first place), but yes, it was a typo. –  VonC Nov 10 '10 at 14:24
    
Ah, I see. Thanks for the explanation! –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 10 '10 at 14:26
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The difference is pretty subtle, but the "did you..." version implies more of an event, i.e. something that needs to be seen just once, perhaps because it's temporary.

So,

Have you seen [insert movie title]?

but

Did you see last night's [insert TV show name] episode?

Edit: note that there's nothing wrong with "Have you seen last night's episode?", or with "Did you see the movie?", but there is a (slight) difference in meaning.

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What's wrong with "Have you seen last HouseMD episode?"? –  zerkms Nov 10 '10 at 2:58
    
@zerkms, it's missing a "the": Have you seen the last House MD episode? Other than that, it's perfectly fine. –  Marthaª Nov 10 '10 at 4:31
    
Hm, then I cannot get the "but" part of your answer :-( –  zerkms Nov 10 '10 at 4:42
    
@zerkms: "the last House MD episode" is a permanent thing. It might not refer to the same thing next week as this week, but it's still a reference that will continue to have meaning, regardless of the passage of time. Thus, I can ask whether you have seen it [at some indeterminate time in the past]. Last night's showing of the episode, however, is a one-time thing, which you either caught or you didn't. Thus, I can't ask "*Have you seen last night's showing of House MD", at least not without sounding a bit awkward. –  Marthaª Nov 10 '10 at 14:56
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There is a difference between UK and US usage in this case (though I believe that the difference has been diminishing over the past few decades).

In my (UK) idiolect,

"Did you see this?"

is very unlikely, because "did you see" implies that the opportunity for seeing it has passed, which is inconsistent with "this". Without "this" (eg "Did you see what he did?") the implication is that he has stopped doing it. "Did you see this yet?" is impossible in my idiolect for the same reason.

"Have you seen this?"

implies that you still could see it even if you haven't yet. Thus Martha's "Have you seen last night's episode?" to me implies that the episode is still available in some way and you could still see it. I would not say "Have you seen last night's performance of the play?"

As I say, I believe that this distinction is not there (or at least not as strong) in US English.

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For what it's worth, I wouldn't say "Have you seen last night's performance of the play?" either. (I was trying to come up with a counterexample like that, but my brain wasn't cooperating.) –  Marthaª Nov 10 '10 at 14:51
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