Present perfect and simple past: differences

We do not use the present perfect with expressions that refer to a completely finished period of time, like yesterday, last week, when, then, five years ago, in 1995. The simple past is used with this meaning.

  • I saw Alice yesterday. (NOT I have seen Alice yesterday.)
  • I was born in 1979.
  • She died three years ago.
  • John left ten minutes ago.

American English

In American English, the simple past is often used to give news.

  • Did you hear? France declared/has declared war on Britain.
  • (GB Have you heard? France has declared war on Britain.)
  • Lucy just called. (GB Lucy has just called.)
  • Honey, I lost/ have lost the keys. (GB Honey, I have lost the keys.)
this is the first time etc.

We use a present perfect tense in sentences constructed with this/it/that is the first/second/third/only/best/worst/etc.

  • This is the fifth time you have asked me the same question.
  • It is one of the most interesting books I have ever read.
  • This is the first time I have heard her sing.

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