Present Perfect v Past Simple

Past Simple

The past simple is used to describe fully completed events in the past. We often use a time indicator (e.g. yesterday, last year, in 2003 etc) but we don’t always have to mention it – important is that the context must be about this past time.

Present Perfect

We use the present perfect to talk about general experiences in the past. The main point to note is that we don’t mention a time and don’t give any detail.


It’s important in English to understand the difference between the past simple and present perfect because it can be confusing for German learners. The past simple talks about a time in the past and gives exact detail whereas the present perfect talks generally about an experience in the past without mentioning the time or detail.

Common Mistakes

Ich habe gestern gearbeitet.
I worked yesterday – the word yesterday finishes the event in the past. Therefore it is past simple.
I worked yesterday (not I have worked yesterday)
Ich bin heute Morgen zur Arbeit mit dem Bus gefahren.
Again, the words “heute Morgen” finish the event in the past, therefore the correct translation is:
I went to work by bus this morning (not I am going…)

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