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This question already has an answer here:

What are the difference between the following sentence?

  1. I ate apples.
  2. I have eaten apples.

When should we use simple past tense? When should we use perfect past tense?

marked as duplicate by user140086, ab2, tchrist, NVZ, Nathaniel May 19 '16 at 14:04

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  • There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of related questions you can find if you use the search box. – user140086 May 18 '16 at 18:04
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Let me use two different sentences to explain. 'I decided to get a degree in computer science when I was in university.' 'I have decided to reply to your question.'

The first, in the past tense, refers to an act that took place in the past and is not directly relevant to what's going on at this present time. If you were writing a history you would use the past tense a great deal.

The second, in the present perfect tense, refers to an act that has been completed and has an effect on the present time.

  • How are they different from "I had eaten apples."? @Al Maki – user1187968 May 18 '16 at 20:27
  • @user1187968 That's past perfect. – Al Maki May 18 '16 at 22:58
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"I ate apples." implies one or more specific instances of eating apples (e.g., answering the question: "which fruit did you eat last Saturday at brunch"), or, the admission of a truth about yourself as an eater of apples in a specific instance (i.e., the affirmative answer to a "Yes or No" question about a specific instance).

"I have eaten apples." implies a general truth, unrelated to any specific time, place, context, (e.g., answering the question, "which fruits have you eaten in the course of your adult life?") or the admission of a truth about yourself as an eater of apples at any time (i.e., the affirmative answer to a Y or N question about your past in general).

  Use simple past tense when you are referring to context: the what, where, when and why of specific events, actions, etc. (Those specific events are implied from the tense when you don't actually include them.) For example, in the above phrase: "I ate apples ...", "<... context>" may be "on last Saturday" or "but not bananas on last Saturday" or "but not bananas on Saturday because the doctor told me that morning that bananas would constipate me."

  Use past perfect tense when you are referring to something more general, e.g., "I have eaten apples ...", "<...context>" may be "on a few Saturdays in the past" or "instead of bananas when I have been constipated in the past."

  Choosing one tense versus the other, when you are not including any other contextual information, adds clarity to what you are saying, such as specific instances of eating apples, or generally eating apples in certain situations.

  I found I understood these two tenses much much better after I learned Spanish and we had to memorize the reasons for using one tense versus the other. In English it is not a strict rule, the way it is in Spanish, but I think the "rule of clear speech" controls nonetheless.

  • Not true: I ate apples [last week, this morning] I have eaten apples this morning, is a past tense also. Just not as specific as: I ate apples this morning at 8 am. Both are PAST tenses. – Lambie May 18 '16 at 19:17
  • @Lambie. I am new here, so I am still learning the ropes, and trying to understand "threads." I see your comment above, and it looks like it is a comment on my answer. As a point of clarification: What is "not true?" In my answer, I am referring to the same two past tenses as the person posing the question: simple past tense, and past perfect. And I am making the same point you are, simple past tense is more specific, past perfect is more general. – Terry Corbett May 23 '16 at 5:02
  • Yes, it was. The entire question is about tenses; the "truth value" is really not relevant here.Your entire first paragraph doesn't really deal with the tense issue at all. You only add that later...as an afterthought. – Lambie May 24 '16 at 14:13
  • @Lambie The question I see has 2 parts. Part 1: What is the difference between two sentences: I ate apples, and I have eaten apples? My 1st paragraph answered that part. Part 2: When should we use simple past tense and when should we use past perfect? I answered that in my 2nd paragraph. Was that not proper protocol? Should I have first discerned some "meta-question/topic," and addressed that? I'm on the autistic spectrum; in part that means I respond to all questions literally. If that's not protocol here, this may not be a site for me to be active on after all. – Terry Corbett May 25 '16 at 16:47
  • The entire question grammatically is about tenses. You don't get to tenses until the gray post. Forget protocol, luv, It was the basic grammatical issues I was addressing. Don't worry; nothing against autism at all. People are what the are even though the French painter did a painting with "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" on it (This is not a pipe). Do you know it? – Lambie May 25 '16 at 17:13

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