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Present perfect for past action with present effect

Is this sentence correct? What exactly does it mean?

Person 1: Where did you hide my keys?

Person 2: I put them on the table.

Are they still there? What does it mean if I say this?


Person 1: Where did you hide my keys?

Person 2: I have put them on the table.

Does it mean that I put them there and they are still there, or I put them there, so they should be there?

Also, could I say, "where have you hidden my keys?" What would be the difference?

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    You might be interested in supporting this proposal for English Language Learners – simchona Jul 29 '12 at 18:45
  • To me the present perfect sounds more formal than the past simple. Personally I would just use past simple although both are grammatically correct. – American Luke Jul 29 '12 at 18:54
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    Simple past is enough. Every added verb makes it more complex. Complexity will not help anybody find their keys. – John Lawler Jul 29 '12 at 19:20
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    @John Lawler: It seems to me this is a context where the fact that present perfect implies greater relevance to the time of speaking is significant. If you answer "I have put them on the table", this carries far higher expectation that you believe that's where they are now (you might even be looking at them as you speak). – FumbleFingers Jul 29 '12 at 19:41
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    Is there a transatlantic divide here, with AmEng often preferring the past tense where BrEng uses the present perfect construction? I'm not at all sure the difference is inaudible in speech, at least not where I live. – Barrie England Jul 29 '12 at 20:32

Person 2: I put them on the table.

This sentence is correct. In response to a question in the simple past tense, it answers in the same tense. It states an action its subject has performed, but makes no formal suggestion about the current state of that action's object.

Person 1: Where did you hide my keys?

Person 2: I have put them on the table.

This sentence is incorrect in the given context because it is awkward to use the present perfect tense to answer a question in the simple past tense.

could I say, "where have you hidden my keys?"

This form is grammatically correct. Technically this differs in meaning from the question worded with the simple past tense in that the former asks about the present state of the direct object.

When a person asks the whereabouts of an object for which s/he is currently searching, the person is concerned with the object's present state, which would suggest that the present perfect must be used in such situations. However, in common speech, such questions are asked using simple past and present perfect interchangeably.

The tense used in the question will dictate the tense of the response.

  • Is there a rule that you have to answer a where question in the same tense that it was asked? Where have you seen this rule? – Peter Shor Jul 30 '12 at 11:19
  • Please give an example of the contrary. – Pantalones Jul 31 '12 at 0:33
  • "Where have you seen them before?"—"I saw them at Coombe on Sunday the 14th." From Google books. For yes/no questions you need to answer with the same verb tense, but for what/who/where questions, you should answer with the tense appropriate for the form of your answer. Here, you need to use the simple past because there is a specific time given in the answer. – Peter Shor Jul 31 '12 at 1:12
  • It may be argued that the reply in this example is not grammatically correct in spite of the frequency of its form. The reasoning given is also debatable. – Pantalones Jul 31 '12 at 3:20
  • @Pantqlones: You cannot say "I have seen them at Coombe on Sunday the 14th." That is an incorrect usage of the present perfect in English. To me, a native English speaker, it sounds terrible. Changing the tense in the reply to a where/what/who question sounds perfectly fine. Changing it in the reply to a yes/no question sounds wrong. – Peter Shor Jul 31 '12 at 4:02

In the first example, it means that you put them on the table, but they may or may not still be there. The second sentence means essentially the same thing, but it means that the person has put them (the keys) on the table more recently.

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