Might I pose yet another question on the (tedious?) subject of the contrast between present perfect and simple past? I have been asked if the following sentence should be:

"This is the report I prepared" or

"This is the report I have prepared".

The situational context would have been the start of a meeting, but I have no details as to what was said before the sentence at hand. However, I would suppose that the audience knew in advance of the data and expected the speaker to brief them about the document at some point.

My initial response was that the present perfect is not strictly necessary here. Or rather, as I told my student, the inflectional past "I prepared" is better in this relative clause.

Now in terms of the rules of thumb traditionally given to learners at intermediate level, actually there are more than enough reasons to justify the use of the present perfect: the time when the work was done is not specified, the report was obviously completed and there was now-relevance at the moment of speaking. My student was right to appear confused.

I have since been trying to rationalise my reaction and determine if mine was a valid intuition or just a knee-jerk, irrational response to bad pronunciation (as in "the report I HAVE prepared", the auxiliary being unduly marked) I know that in AE it is quite acceptable to use the simple past in many cases where BE prefers the present perfect. But I would like to know what the use of the preterite in the above case implies to BE speakers, if it doesn't sound downright wrong. (This post has been edited to clarify question and context.)

  • What's the question? Both are correct. They mean different things.
    – Drew
    Jun 14, 2015 at 0:25
  • In the absence of any type of time markers, I would have thought that BE prefers the present perfect. Could you elaborate on what you said, i.e. that the simple past would also be correct, just meaning something different? Jun 16, 2015 at 15:27
  • This is (here, now) the report that I prepared (at some time in the past, e.g., last Thursday). Nothing wrong with that. I have prepared means that as of now the report is prepared. The action of preparation is finished now, and it was finished just now or sometime before now. In the first case, the action was completed at some time in the past, perhaps long ago - the emphasis is on the fact that it was completed. In the second case, the emphasis is on the process of preparation, and it is clear only that the process is now finished, not that it was finished at some time in the past.
    – Drew
    Jun 16, 2015 at 15:41
  • King Joe built the aqueduct in 1374. Governor Jim has now rebuilt the aqueduct.
    – Drew
    Jun 16, 2015 at 15:43
  • What about questions of euphony, do they never come into play? Or personal preference at that. This is a point I keep belabouring. In a case like this the choice seems wholly subjective: then why couldn't you simply use the preterite, for no other reason than that it's cleaner, economical, and carries no additional implications or info? I don't know if this makes sense? Jun 17, 2015 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


It seems to me now that my original question rests on a couple of incorrect assumptions.

What counts is rather the fact that the past tense is found in a subordinate clause. This alone leads to a preference for the simple past. Vide M. Swan, 2005 (3rd Ed.), #580 Tense Simplification in Subordinate Clauses: "...Verbs in subordinate clauses are often simpler in form than verbs in main clauses - for example present instead of future, simple past instead of would + infinitive...(p573) ...simple past...instead of present perfect...if the meaning is clear"(p575).

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