Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Here's a conversation:

Speaker1: I have already seen this film.
Speaker2: When have you seen it? [OR] When did you see it?
Speaker1: Last month.

Are both of the responses from Speaker2 correct?

share|improve this question
This might answer your question :… – Laure Jan 1 '12 at 15:00
So might this:… – John Lawler Jan 1 '12 at 16:54
Excellent question...but already addressed by others (in the links). – Mitch Jan 3 '12 at 18:50

4 Answers 4

Both versions of (b) are valid, but one difference is "When did you see it?" is far more common...

enter image description here

Only my opinion, but on average I feel that "when have you seen it?" is more likely to be accusatory or incredulous. There's often a sense of "I don't believe you! Prove it by telling me exactly when!".

share|improve this answer

The normal response would be When did you see it? The statement which prompts it uses the present perfect construction because the speaker is relating the fact that he has already seen the film to something happening at the time he is speaking. He may, for instance, be in the cinema watching the film for a second time, or someone may have suggested that they see it together. The subsequent question would normally have the verb in the past tense, because the second speaker is not concerned with relating the previous viewing of the film with the present, but wants to know at what particular time in the past the first speaker saw the film. Identifying an event at a time in the past is one of the main uses of the past tense.

share|improve this answer

The present perfect is rarely used with an adjunct specifying a time, perhaps because its use is in some way to relate the past event to the present, so specifying the location in the past is somewhat inconsistent.

"When" is effectively a temporal adverb, so the same applies.

share|improve this answer

In the example offered by the OP, I would always opt for the simple past question

When did you see it?

The simple past, as Barrie England's answer explains, is used for “Identifying an event at a time in the past”. In fact the response is "Last month", that month belongs to the past, it has no connection to the "now" present. But speaker 2 could have easily replied with

[I saw it] This month.

Despite this month being still current, the first speaker remembers seeing the film at a definite moment in the past. This "moment" could be any time between the beginning of the month to when speaker 2 asked the question. However, if he had seen the film very recently, he would probably have replied: Yesterday; last night ; on Sunday; a few/couple of days ago etc.

It is rare that questions asking "when" are in the present perfect, but not unheard of.

For example:

Tom: I know Bob skips school regularly.
Anne: Oh, yes? When have you seen him playing truant?
Tom: Usually on a Friday.

Google Books provide similar examples

  1. On any special occasion, when have you seen him under the influence of liquor?
    —I remember none.
  2. When have you seen a Coca-Cola ad focusing on price? Never.
  3. Q: Where and when have you seen your aunt write?
    A: I have seen her write frequently at her own house.
    Q: What have you seen her write?
    A: I have seen her write letters, papers and general writing.
  4. When have you seen ordinary people do extraordinary things?
  5. And anyway, when have you seen me reading Cosmo?

And with since when...

  1. “No, since when have you been such a saint?”
  2. “What the fuck do you mean, coming here telling me you've married the woman I love! Since when have you been interested in her?”
  3. ‘Since when have you been a quitter?’ he asked.
  4. Since when have you been employed?

In the mentioned examples, the speaker might be referring to a state which lasts up to the present moment; an incomplete activity; or a repeated activity.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.