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How do the tenses in English correspond temporally to one another?

As a English non-native speaker it is difficult for me to understand when I must use present perfect or past simple because in my official language there isn't the present perfect tense.
I know that present perfect is related to something that happened in the past but its result is important now. But for instance:

  1. The message has been sent.
  2. The message was sent.

Please help me point me out any examples/contexts where I should use 1. instead of 2.

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2 - I always find it awkward when the past simple is used like this without any time reference. i.e. The message was sent yesterday. As it is in your given examples, I would say that both are just confirming status as sent and thus, the first would be the standard and the second would be non-standard (though, acceptable perhaps in AmE). –  Karl Jul 1 '12 at 6:16
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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Sep 13 '12 at 8:52

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

1 means that the action happened just now. You would typically see it in your e-mail program just after you send an e-mail. Your program might give you this message to let you know that the message you just sent has indeed been sent.

2 refers to something that happened at some time in the past. It could have been an hour ago, a day ago, or even a century ago! But it wasn't just now.

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4  
OP also identified another instance of (1): "I know that present perfect is related to something that happened in the past but its result is important now." For example: Manager "What about the status email?" Underling, checking logs "Yes, it has been sent. In fact it was sent three hours ago." –  Andrew Leach Jun 30 '12 at 22:40
    
Thanks @Andrew, good example. –  JAM Jun 30 '12 at 22:41
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@JAM- in AmE you could say: the message was just sent., eh? –  Noah Jul 1 '12 at 1:21
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This is the "Hot News" sense of the Perfect. –  John Lawler Jul 1 '12 at 1:38
    
@Noah , yes. It is my understanding that the perfect is much underused in AmE. The example that you have given would ring as non-standard in BrE. –  Karl Jul 1 '12 at 6:13
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Think of the past tense as referring to an event that took place at a particular time in the past. In saying The message was sent, the speaker will normally have in mind something like yesterday or last week.

The present perfect is called 'present' for a reason. The speaker is talking about the situation now, a situation in which a past event has some bearing on the present. For example, The message has been sent might be followed by a comment such as so it's too late to do anything about it now.

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Right now, this is the only correct answer here. –  user16269 Jul 1 '12 at 10:15
    
David, why ? I think there are good answers here, including this one, of course. –  utxeee Jul 1 '12 at 11:01
    
@utxeee - I don't really know how to answer that. Quite simply, it's the only correct answer, because the other two are wrong. Have a look at my comment under JAM's answer; I can't make it any clearer, other than by repeating Barrie's words. –  user16269 Jul 1 '12 at 11:57
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The Have P.P. is used to talk about new information or more recent things, versus the Past Simple which only talks about the Past.

The message has been sent. vs. The message was sent.

She has gone out. vs. She went out.

It has been towed. vs. It was towed.

A: Please remind Mrs. Jones of our appointment this afternoon. 

B: I've sent the message. (The message has been sent.)       

A: Where's Susan? 

B: She's gone out.

A: Where's my car? 

B: It's been towed. 

Feeling and imagining what constitutes "a connection/ result now" is the tricky part for learners.


Another good initial practice for you would be to link the Have P.P. together with Adverbs such as "just," "already," and "yet."

Finally, there will be differences between American and British English. But if you keep practicing the Have P.P. in its situations, you will soon get the hang of it.

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