What's the difference between these two phrases?


5 Answers 5


To add to Martha's answer:

  • The simple past ("Did you see this") refers about an event in the past
  • The present perfect ("Have you seen this") suggests a link with the present time.

If "this" is something you could have seen but cannot anymore (you should have been there seeing "this" at the time, but it wouldn't have the same impact if you see it again now), then "Did you see" is more appropriate.
It is about an event that happened once in the past.

If "this" is something you can check out whenever you want, "Have you seen" is more to the point, because it suggests that, if you haven't seen it in the past, you could consider seeing it now or in the near future.
It is about an event which can happen again or is still relevant in the present.

  • Can anyone answer this clear example: a car in flames runs down the street at 80mph. Now it is gone over the corner. What is the question you will ask your friends? "Have you seen that car?" or "Did you see that car?" From the above answer I understand is "did".
    – IceCold
    Jul 29, 2020 at 9:48
  • @Ultralisk "Now it has gone around the corner", and yes you are correct, "Did you see that car?"
    – Rich M
    Feb 4, 2021 at 15:37

The difference is pretty subtle, but the "did you..." version implies more of an event, i.e. something that needs to be seen just once, perhaps because it's temporary.


Have you seen [insert movie title]?


Did you see last night's [insert TV show name] episode?

Edit: note that there's nothing wrong with "Have you seen last night's episode?", or with "Did you see the movie?", but there is a (slight) difference in meaning.

  • What's wrong with "Have you seen last HouseMD episode?"?
    – zerkms
    Nov 10, 2010 at 2:58
  • @zerkms, it's missing a "the": Have you seen the last House MD episode? Other than that, it's perfectly fine.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 10, 2010 at 4:31
  • Hm, then I cannot get the "but" part of your answer :-(
    – zerkms
    Nov 10, 2010 at 4:42
  • @zerkms: "the last House MD episode" is a permanent thing. It might not refer to the same thing next week as this week, but it's still a reference that will continue to have meaning, regardless of the passage of time. Thus, I can ask whether you have seen it [at some indeterminate time in the past]. Last night's showing of the episode, however, is a one-time thing, which you either caught or you didn't. Thus, I can't ask "*Have you seen last night's showing of House MD", at least not without sounding a bit awkward.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 10, 2010 at 14:56

There is a difference between UK and US usage in this case (though I believe that the difference has been diminishing over the past few decades).

In my (UK) idiolect,

"Did you see this?"

is very unlikely, because "did you see" implies that the opportunity for seeing it has passed, which is inconsistent with "this". Without "this" (eg "Did you see what he did?") the implication is that he has stopped doing it. "Did you see this yet?" is impossible in my idiolect for the same reason.

"Have you seen this?"

implies that you still could see it even if you haven't yet. Thus Martha's "Have you seen last night's episode?" to me implies that the episode is still available in some way and you could still see it. I would not say "Have you seen last night's performance of the play?"

As I say, I believe that this distinction is not there (or at least not as strong) in US English.

  • For what it's worth, I wouldn't say "Have you seen last night's performance of the play?" either. (I was trying to come up with a counterexample like that, but my brain wasn't cooperating.)
    – Marthaª
    Nov 10, 2010 at 14:51
  • So, it would be more appropriate to use "Did you see that?" instead of "Did you see this?"
    – IceCold
    Jul 29, 2020 at 9:52

Have u seen my glasses?
Did you see my glasses?

"Have you seen" implies that the person saw your glasses sometime in the recent past right up to the present moment. "Did you see" is asking if the person has ever seen your glasses, at any time in the past. It makes a big difference if you're looking for a lost pair of glasses. It wouldn't help much if the person had seen them four years ago. You want to know where they are now!



Did you see James? -- No, I did not have any dates with him.

Have you seen James? --- No, I have no idea where he is.

  • Note that I have added some capital letters, full stops etc to your post Joe. Now what exactly is the question you are asking?
    – WS2
    Jan 30, 2015 at 23:23
  • Your first example chooses a special sense of see (= meet by arrangement). And your second a special pragmatic thrust ('Can you tell me where he is?') They're not wrong per se, but you've redefined context, so they don't address OP's question. Jan 31, 2015 at 0:37
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    – user63230
    Feb 1, 2015 at 11:33

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