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Normally we use the past simple instead of present perfect when an action happened at a specific time in the past and is not linked with the present.

Why is the below sentence grammatically correct?

How many points have you scored this season?

Don't the words "this season" indicate a specific time here? Why can't I use past tense instead? As in, "How many points did you score this season?"

Why is the latter wrong?

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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

When we ask "How many points have you scored this season?", it means that the season is still going on. It's like asking "How many points have you scored in this season so far?"

In the case of "How many points did you score...", the season has come to an end and is past. So it cannot be referred to as "this season". However, you can ask "How many points did you score (in the) last season?" and that will be grammatically correct.

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Instead of thinking about specific time, it may be more helpful to distinguish between finished time (past simple) and unfinished time (present perfect).

If the season is still in progress, then it needs to be:

  • How many points have you scored this season? (unfinished season)

If the season has just ended, you would normally ask:

  • How many points did you score this season? (finished season)

The same applies to other time expressions with this. For example:

  • Have you eaten this morning? (unfinished morning)

implies that it is still morning and there is still a possibility of eating this morning.

  • Did you eat this morning? (finished morning)

implies it is now afternoon or evening.

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It's really helpful. I particularly like the part about the distinction between "unspecific" and "unfinished" times. I was having a hard time with "today" in a sentence. If we apply the 'unspecific time' notion it gets more confusing, because today is a specific moment. However, thinking of 'unfinished time' it makes more sense. It means that there's still time to do it or the action is still going on. Congrats for you job. –  Sérgio Luz e Souza Apr 25 '13 at 0:10
    
Today is "this day" so the same principle applies: The past simple or present perfect is used depending on whether or not the speaker conceives the day as finished [ie. closed to the possibility of a particular event happening again 'this day'.] For example if John is your work colleague you would say to your wife when you got home: I didn't see John today, whereas if it is the afternoon and you are still at work you would say to another colleague I haven't seen John today (implying that the possibility of seeing John that day is still open). –  Shoe Apr 25 '13 at 5:45
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The present perfect shows that a past event has current relevance. The speaker is interested in the performance of the addressee, perhaps to compare scores. The full meaning is ‘How many points have you scored this season up until now?' In terms of the conversation ‘this season’ is in the current time frame. The past tense would have been used if the question had been about an event occurring at some specific time in the past and which was of less interest in the present conversation: ‘How many points did you score last season?’

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