What's correct? If both, what is the difference between these questions?

An example from The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

MacDonald turned over the letter which Holmes had handed him. «Posted in Camberwell – that doesn't help us much. Name, you say, is assumed. Not much to go on, certainly.
«And how?»
«In notes to Camberwell postoffice.»
«Did you ever trouble to see who called for them?»
The inspector looked surprised and a little shocked. «Why not?»
«Because I always keep faith. I had promised when he first wrote that I would not try to trace him.»
«You think there is someone behind him?»
«I know there is.»
«This professor that I've heard you mention?»


«Well, Mr. Holmes, I admit that what you say is interesting: it's more than interesting – it's just wonderful. But let us have it a little clearer if you can. Is it forgery, coining, burglary – where does the money come from?»
«Have you ever read of Jonathan Wild?»
«Well, the name has a familiar sound. Someone in a novel, was he not? I don't take much stock of detectives in novels – chaps that do things and never let you see how they do them. That's just inspiration: not business.»

closed as not constructive by J.R., MetaEd, kiamlaluno, Mitch, Kris Sep 17 '12 at 11:17

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
  • I agree with both comments, but it's still an interesting question. The differences between past tense and the present perfect construction are fairly clear in statements, but not quite so clear in interrogatives. – Barrie England Sep 8 '12 at 11:07
  • @Xavier Vidal Hernandez I would have understood your critisism if you had answered the question. I hardly think that no one has ever met both variants in written literature so that I needed to cite additional examples. – krokoziabla Sep 8 '12 at 11:15
  • I appreciate your politeness but still I think it is not an efficient way to seek the truth - it's kind of bureaucracy. It took me 10 seconds to find these quotes that's certainly not a thing people have never heard of. – krokoziabla Sep 8 '12 at 11:48
  • 1
    @krokoziabla: I believe the edit you made (namely, the two quotes from Doyle, and the change in the question's title), do a decent job of clarifying the difficulty you had in the matter. While I was in general agreement with XVH's first comment, I don't concur with his subsequent comment, and I'm glad Mr. England gave you a good answer to your improved question. – J.R. Sep 8 '12 at 18:16

The broad difference between the past tense and the present perfect construction is that the first describes an event at a specific time in the past, whereas the second describes an event which began in the past, but has current relevance. That’s putting it very simply, and for a fuller explanation you should consult a qualified English teacher, or a grammar book designed for non-native speakers (and I assume you are one).

In the first of your two examples, there is an assumed at any particular time between ever and trouble. The second shows a less frequent application of the present perfect construction, where it is used to talk about general experience up to the point of speaking. The question means Have you ever in your whole life read of Jonathan Wild?

  • Yes, you're right, I'm from Russia and I have been studying English about two years only. :-) I have no difficulties with the second example. But as to the first, there also, in my opinion, a period of time is considered and that is the case where present perfect tense should be used, shouldn't it? May I rephrase it in this way? Have you ever troubled to see who called for them since the wire was received? – krokoziabla Sep 8 '12 at 12:26
  • You can, but it changes the emphasis, adding a somewhat accusatory tone to the sentence. The past tense would certainly be more natural. If anything is slightly unusual, it’s the use of ‘ever’. – Barrie England Sep 8 '12 at 12:43
  • Well, thank you. I'll remember your words when I meet 'ever' in questions in the future. – krokoziabla Sep 8 '12 at 13:04
  • I have one more example: "Well, we've lived there fifteen years and no such happenings **ever came** before. I've had enough of him." Am I correct that before shows in some way an 'exact' moment of time which makes us use past simple instead of present perfect? – krokoziabla Sep 12 '12 at 21:07
  • It would probably occur as ‘Well, we've lived there fifteen years and nothing like that has ever happened before.’ The present perfect is used in the second clause because it refers to the period up until the time of speaking. – Barrie England Sep 13 '12 at 6:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.