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What is the difference between the simple past and present perfect in the following?

When I first got here, I bought a car. [Assuming I still own the car]. This is the first thing I have done.

When I first got here, I bought a car. [Assuming I still own the car]. This is the first thing I did.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

The clause when I first got here is an expression of finished time (cf. yesterday, last week), and requires the past simple. So your first sentence in ungrammatical. If, on the other hand, you use an expression of unfinished time, you usually use the present perfect:

Since I first got here, I have bought a new car, found a job, got married, etc.

The difference is between the words when (finished time - past simple) and since (unfinished time - present perfect).

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Thanks. Why do the grammar books say that we use present perfect if it's our first experience? Not sure if I am explaining it properly. – Noah Mar 11 '12 at 9:26
@Noah, When you first announce something you often you the present perfect: I've bought a new car. But as soon as you use an expression of past time, you must use the past simple: I bought a new car yesterday. – Shoe Mar 11 '12 at 9:31
Last question. Is the simple present in the first part of this sentence correct? "This is the first thing I did." Or should it be "was"? – Noah Mar 11 '12 at 9:34
@Noah, Short answer: Both This is the first thing I did and This was the first thing I did are correct and common. – Shoe Mar 11 '12 at 12:05
Thanks, Shoe. You deserve more than a thumbs up! – Noah Mar 11 '12 at 12:10

Your grammar depends on your orientation in time.

Your introductory "maps" the event, you have a "ground": when I first got here is some time you know. You're OK to say this is the first thing you did.

Imagine you talk about getting somewhere distant. Thinking about a time span, you could tell you'VE got a bike, a car, and finally a boat. ;)

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