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I have read this text about a man who has spent a terrible holiday (in the island of Thassos) due to the disorganisation of the travel company. In fact the text consists in the complaint letter that he wrote to the bloke of the company... I report the passage that I can't understand:

Over the years I have been on many holidays to Greece and I can safely say that, until this year, all of those holidays were wonderful. For example, I once spent six weeks on Crete. I loved that holiday so much that I have returned every spring for the last four years.

Could you please tell me based on which rule is it necessary to use the present perfect (that I have put in bold) instead of the simple past?

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If you say "I have done it 4 times" that means that the statement is relevant to the present and that I may do it again, but if I say "I did it 4 times", then that is a statement only about the past and does not suggest anything about my current intention.

Here, the present perfect tense is used because the person travels every year to Crete and it is implied that s/he intends to continue to return to Crete again.

Hope this helps.

  • Thanks Russell S, I think that I've made a wrong assumption: I've thought that she/he had been to Crete the previous years while the year he wrote this letter he visited Thassos instead of Crete, that's why I've considered the habit of going to Crete something finished and the use of simple past more correct. But maybe she/he decided to visit Thassos without giving up going to Crete, he did both. That would be the only case in which I would consider present perfect the right choice.. – Giulia Aug 21 '15 at 22:07
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I don't think they are saying they went to Crete every year, but Greece. Their first trip to Greece was Crete for six weeks, for the next four years they returned to Greece but in different places. You could read it like this;

"Over the years I have been on many holidays to Greece and I can safely say that, until this year, all of those holidays were wonderful. For example, I once spent six weeks on Crete. I loved that holiday so much that I have returned [to Greece] every spring for the last four years."

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Most textbooks (if not all of them) teach that the present perfect is used when there is a connection with the past and the present. This is only partly true. The present perfect is almost always used when a decision needs to be made by the listener or speaker about the future or how that past is to be considered. It is also used when they would like to say that something is relevant but not say it directly. It has to do with the main point being discussed. It is a kind of "code."

For example, If I ask a native speaker, "Have you been to China?" they will instinctively know that I want to discuss their past experiences and will answer with something more than "yes" or "no" (the answer to a simple past query.)

In your example, it is certainly possible to use the simple past, but the phrase "for the last four years." dictates the use of PP. There are other keywords used in PP constructions, "just, recently, lately, for, or since."

Your question actually uses present perfect twice in an unnatural way. You started by saying "I have read..." While not gramatically incorrect, it is not something a native speaker would say. "I read.." is best because the reading is not important and we are not going to discuss that. You also say "...has spent..." Again, not incorrect but we are not really talking about the man and his vacation, we are going to talk about the use of grammar in a sentence. You could say, "I've read in grammar books that..." The main point of your inquiry is about grammar, so that would be natural. Also, in one of your answers, you say, "In watching the key, I've seen...", again another unnatural use. It's better to say "I looked at the key and saw." You are narrating a past event so the SP is the best choice. (BTW, we use "look" for books, not "watch.") We often use the SP for narrating past events.

PP vs. SP is a hotly-debated subject because there are many instances in which SP and PP can be switched with almost no change in meaning. If you're looking for a good discussion of PP, look in Murphy's Grammar.

You asked for rules. Language certainly consists of rules, however PP is one of those areas where rules can only help so far. In many cases, the logic has to be explained. However, there are instances in which PP has to be used, for example 'I am playing piano since 1995," is incorrect because the word "since" is used with PP, "I have been playing piano since 1995."

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One use of the present perfect is for states/conditions beginning in the past and continuing into the present, such as "I've lived in Shanghai for two years" (meaning that I still live there). A similar sense of this tense, sometimes taught as a variation of the same usage, is its application to an action repeated more than once over a period that begins in the past and continues into the present. for example, "Since moving to Shanghai, I've often visited Jing'an Temple."

In the OP's example, "for the last four years" describes a period that continues into the present, so an action (visiting Crete) that recurs regularly over this period can be expressed in the present perfect.

  • I like your insight but when you introduce "often" it changes things; of course it now means regularly. "I often visited Greece in my youth." is simple past. Are you going to say that simple past also talks about things that repeat more than once? The original sentence says "every spring" but that doesn't mean PP talks about regular things. "Would" talks about regular things in the past. – michael_timofeev Aug 22 '15 at 6:43

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