Imagine the following scenario:

I looked at a girl and gave her a smile. My friend next to me has put a serious look on his face and is staring at me. I turn to my friend and figured that I'd say one of these two versions, but I don’t know which.

  1. I didn’t do anything.
  2. I haven’t done anything.

Which of those is better and when? Is either one actually wrong, or do they mean different things?

What about these others:

  1. I’ve done nothing.
  2. I did nothing.

Or even these:

  1. I wasn’t doing anything.
  2. I was doing nothing.
  • So does this set also hold true " What did You do? ... " I haven't done anything" – Dark lord Mar 6 '15 at 4:47
  • Oh, this so so loaded with contextual dependencies, and so dependent on tone of voice!! – Hot Licks Mar 6 '15 at 13:43

One way to compare subtlely similar phrases is to look at a scenario where only one of them makes sense, as in:

I haven't been doing anything. (OK)
I didn't doing anything. (WRONG)
I wasn't doing anything. (OK)

So clearly "haven't" can be used for ongoing action whereas "didn't" cannot.

Apart from that, they are usually best used to match the question:

What have you done? I haven't done anything.
What did you do? I didn't do anything.

In answer to your question, if you were responding to a non-verbal cue, I would say either is as good as the other.

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  • So does this set also hold true " What did You do? I haven't done anything" – Dark lord Mar 6 '15 at 7:01
  • @Darklord Yes it is OK, but I think it is more normal to match the tense of the question. – aaa90210 Mar 6 '15 at 8:29

Neither is wrong. They're both negatives, but of different tenses, so one is the negative of "I did" the simple past tense and the other is the negative of "I have done", the past perfect tense.

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  • If both convey same meaning why do we have two types of usages.There must be some minute difference. – Dark lord Mar 6 '15 at 7:02
  • This isn’t quite right. The perfect construction I have done uses have in the present tense not had in the past tense. The past perfect would be I had done, the present perfect is I have done. – tchrist Feb 10 '18 at 18:38

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