I'm reading "English Grammar in Use" by Raymond Murphy, and I have a question about the Present Perfect and Past Simple.

Here's the example from the book:

  1. They've gone away. They'll be back on Friday. (they are away now)
  2. They went away, but I think they're back at home now. (not They've gone)

What should I use if I'm talking to my friend and I am not sure if somebody is back or he's still away?

A: Hey, where is Mark?
B: He has gone to the shop or He went to the shop.

Should I choose the tense depending on my own opinion about his current location at the moment of speaking?


3 Answers 3


Even though you would not use "They've gone" in your second sentence, note that you could say "They went" in your first sentence:

They went away. They'll be back on Friday.

and the wording need not change if you are not sure:

They went away. I think they'll be back on Friday.

("went" works even though they are still gone because the action can be seen as completed in that there is only one moment that you leave).

But in your second example, "back at home" necessitates the past simple instead of present perfect because the action cannot be ongoing if they are back at home. Even if you are unsure ("I think they are back at home now"), you cannot use present perfect because of the implication that the action is not complete.

In your example dialogue, then, you could say "He went to the shop" whether you believe he is still out or not, but "has gone" only if you believe that he is still out.

eg, "went":

A Hey, where is Mark?

B He went to the shop, but I think he's back home now. / He'll be back in an hour. / I think he'll be back in an hour.

but "has gone":

A Hey, where is Mark?

B He has gone to the shop, but I think he's back home now. / He'll be back in an hour. / I think he'll be back in an hour.


you should use present perfect for unfinished situations, but if it is clear that it is finished you should prefer past simple. but if you are not sure you had better prefer perfect tense. we use perfect tense for ambiguous situations.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U! Do you have a reference for this? It seems wrong to me. I would say "he went to the shop, but I don't know whether he's still there". I wouldn't use has gone in that sentence. Apr 9, 2014 at 17:30
  • There's a grey area for a situation between 'he can't be back yet' and 'he's certain to be back by now' where I'm sure people use either. Apr 9, 2014 at 18:08
  • So, I am free to choose between Past Simple and Present Perfect, amn't I? Apr 9, 2014 at 21:33

By the way we use following grammar structures for different situations :

Present Perfect : we express Present Perfect for two different purposes
1.Past experiences
2.Unfinished Actions ( a action which is started in the past and it continues up to now)
Simple Past : We user Simple Past to show a activity finished in the past.

Now I think that the first example of English Grammar in use is related to Present Perfect structure due to unfinished actions , It means they haven't arrived to their destination vice versa in 2nd instance they arrived to their destination.Arise from this fact you have to consider their current location.

  • Thanks for you answer, but I've already known it. There is a problem when I can't "consider their current location" because I simply don't know where they are. Apr 9, 2014 at 21:27

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