Something that has really confused me over the years is when and where to use past simple or present perfect, as a non-native English speaker I have always been troubled by this, so I was just wondering if you guys could help !

Look at the examples below :

1) Discipline and hard work are the things that I have learnt in school. or Discipline and hard work are the things that I learnt in school. (situation - I am in college right now and I am talking about things what I was taught in school that I still remember that means I can still relate to things that I had learnt in the past)

2) Why are you on a wheelchair ? Ans : Because I have fallen off the terrace and injured myself. Or Because I fell off the terrace and injured myself. (PS: We've always been taught that if a incident in the past has a connection with the present, use present perfect but here the first one sounds unnatural to me )

3) Cristiano Ronaldo won the Best Player of the Year xyxx. or Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Best Player of the year xyxx. (PS: we are still in the year xyxx)

4) I have changed 3 schools in my school life. Or I changed 3 schools in my school life.

closed as too broad by AmE speaker, Dan Bron, Rob_Ster, tchrist Dec 25 '17 at 13:37

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  1. The present perfect should be used if you wish to communicate that your college experience taught you the value of discipline and hard work. This is likely if, for example, you were being interviewed for a job. The significance of what you learned is important right that moment, in the present. So you could say to the interviewer or write in your application, "I have learned the importance of discipline and hard work at college." You are communicating what you are like today; you are a person who HAS (already) learned. On the other hand, if someone asked, "what accounted for your grades being so much poorer in your freshman year than afterwards, you might respond by saying, "I didn't understand the importance of discipline and hard work until near the end of my freshman year." Past tense, because you are focused on, and explaining, what happened in the past.

  2. You aren't really being asked about your present condition--it's obvious if you are in a wheelchair. The question is how, clearly at some specific point in the past, you became unable to walk. You are being asked what exactly happened in the past, and not whether you can walk today. Because there is one moment in the past that provides the answer to the question, use the simple past: I fell off my terrace and sustained an injury.

  3. With Ronaldo, ask yourself whether the question, or your statement, is focused on a single moment in time in the past, or about a long career. Is this a question being posed twenty years from now when someone asks whether Ronaldo ever won the Ballon D'Or?. If you want to tell someone who had no idea who won Player of the Year for 2017, it's easy--it's a single award made at a specific moment in time, so you would use the past tense--Ronaldo won the Best Fifa Player award for 2017. In the second case, there is a recurring action in the past, every time Ronaldo won either the Ballon or the Fifa trophy. You would clearly say, "Ronaldo has won the top player award five times." You can also think of it as what is his record right now, in the present, but an habitual action in the past, or a repeating event in the past, is almost always a sure claim on the present perfect.

  4. Here the better choice is between two sentences: a) I have changed schools three times; or, b) I changed schools three times. Here again we are seeing a repetitive action in the past, triggering the present perfect.

I think that a good explanation of the difference is given by the Voice of America website. Take a look: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/everyday-grammar-simple-past-and-present-perfect/2752310.html Pay particular attention to the four conditions which require the present perfect. If you master those four, a lot of sentences become easy decisions.

  • but we say - Could somebody please give me a band-aid , I have cut my finger not I cut my finger, so isn't this contrary to the explanation that you have given me in point number 2 ?? – Subrat Bavarian Bastola Dec 25 '17 at 7:34
  • 1
    Actually, I would say, "I cut my finger" in that situation. I might say, "I need a band-aid because I've cut my finger" because I am focusing on the present need for the band-aid. If I say, "Would someone please give me a band-aid, I have cut my finger" it's because I have already made the request in the present, so that present feeling triggers the present perfect. When I start off describing the action in the past focused on the accident, my mind is in the past, so I use the simple past. – Allen S. Dec 25 '17 at 7:55
  • It isn't easy, and the best way to learn is to read and listen to as much English as you can stand. If you read or hear a difficult sentence, write it down and ask. The fact is, though, that native speakers of English struggle with these same questions, and you will have no problem being understood whether your use of the simple past versus the present perfect is correct or not. – Allen S. Dec 25 '17 at 7:56

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