Why hasn't the simple past been used rather than the present perfect in this sentence

''The ambulance is on its way to Beck's house. There's been an accident''

Why not: ''there was an accident''

It was a sentence used in a game. There is no other context used.

  • Being a native speaker I cannot exactly tell you why. But the perfect is the idiomatic tense here. The simple past is never used in this context. – WS2 Apr 29 '15 at 20:44
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    Same as @WS2, it's hard to say why other than "there has been" has more of a sense of immediacy about it to go along with the ambulance that is on its way, than the "there was an accident" version that seems to indicate the accident was in the past. – Kristina Lopez Apr 29 '15 at 20:53
  • The first form (probably more by tradition than for any logical reason) conveys the meaning that the accident has just occurred. The second form simply states that there was an accident, perhaps 5 minutes ago, perhaps 5 years ago. – Hot Licks Apr 29 '15 at 21:43
  • @KristinaLopez Yes. That's a good point about the immediacy. But this particular idiom involving the passive and the perfect is something which does confuse other Europeans. The French would say il y avait un accident which uses the imperfect and approximately translates to an accident was taking place only said in the active voice. The advantage of the English form is that it does distinguish, as Hot Licks points out, between something that happened five minutes ago and something 5 years ago. – WS2 Apr 30 '15 at 7:16

"There was an accident" offers a tone of finality. It tends to imply that someone died or was maimed. At the very least that the accident and all of its effects are done and irreversible.

By saying "there has been an accident", it implies that the accident (and all of its effects) may still be in progress, giving hope that the worst of it may yet be prevented and a sense of urgency to the need to get to the house.

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    I don't agree about the casualty implication in "there was...", but I do agree that it's a done deal. (It might be an answer to the question, "Why is the M6 closed north of Preston?") Also agree that "there has been...." implies that it is not yet a done deal. (It could be the answer to the question, "Why is that ambulance in our street?") – David Pugh Apr 29 '15 at 20:49
  • @Milo It would be interesting to know about your native language, and how you would say it in a way that distinguishes the immediate ongoing, from something which is over and done. If it is a European Romance language I can understand why this may have been confusing for you. – WS2 Apr 30 '15 at 7:23

Present perfect continuous explained on englishpage.com

We use the Present Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and has continued up until now. "For five minutes," "for two weeks," and "since Tuesday" are all durations which can be used with the Present Perfect Continuous.

Even if the accident has taken place this day and is not continuing now, there is a rule of the present period of time. If you say 'today' you refer to the present period of time.

Imagine it is 3 pm and compare:

  • There has been an accident today (today is still continuing)
  • There was an accident this morning (this morning was in the past)
  • There was an accident at 11 am (11 am was in the past)

The rule of the current period of time is the most versatile one and easiest to understand.

  • This is a great rule of thumb for intermediate ESL students, but not altogether accurate. There is nothing wrong, or unusual, about saying "There was an accident today." In fact, it would be more likely to say "was" at 3:00 p.m. for an 11:00 a.m. accident, especially if the accident is completely cleaned up, and the speaker is no longer affected by the accident. The rule exists for situations such as when a traffic reporter states that there have been 5 accidents (so far) today, implying that before day's end, there might be more. – Steven Littman Apr 30 '15 at 1:44
  • @Steven Littman Sure 'There was an accident today' is correct, and in this case the speaker implies some time in the past today. As to the rule being not quite accurate I agree but, based on my teaching experience, there is little use giving an array of advanced rules to answer an intermediate level question. – alx Apr 30 '15 at 1:51
  • @javaNoobs--Remember this is not the ELL forum; it's for native-level English speakers. Subtleties are not glossed over. – Steven Littman Apr 30 '15 at 20:25

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