What’s the Difference Between Simple Past and Present Perfect Tense?

Grammar plays an essential role in the IELTS test because your speaking and writing score will partially depend on your grammatical range and accuracy. Wrong use of tenses is a common writing and speaking mistake in the test. Two of those frequently wrong used tenses are simple past and present perfect. Therefore, today’s blog is going to discuss simple past vs. present perfect tense in terms of their use to help you with your IELTS grammar!

Simple Past vs. Present Perfect:

Both simple past and present perfect can refer to actions which take place before the time you write or speak. However, actions in simple past take place in a finished period of time, which means the action is ended. Actions in present perfect take place in an unfinished period of time or there is no specific time.

Here are two sentences:

She studied English last week.

She has studied English since last year.

The first sentence involves a finished period of time: last week. The action of studying English is ended. ‘Since last year’ in the second sentence means from last year to now and maybe to the future. It is not a finished period of time, so we use present perfect in the second sentence.


Take a look at the following paragraph excerpted from the British Council’s introduction about Benjamin Zephaniah. Can you explain why we use simple past/present perfect tense in bold text?

In addition to his published writing, Benjamin Zephaniah has produced numerous music recordings, including ‘Us and Dem’ and ‘Belly of de beast’, and he has also appeared as an actor in several television and film productions. The BBC first screened his first television play, ‘Dread Poets Society’, in 1991.

Reason: We use present perfect in the first and second places because Benjamin is still alive and his life is an unfinished period of time. However, 1991 is already finished and the action of screen is ended. We use simple past in the third place.

Have a Try!

Here is a table about Beyoncé’s life experience. Use the correct tenses to link the left and right columns into sentences!


Beyoncé was born in 1981.

She attended singing competitions as a child.

She has received numerous awards.

She has won 20 Grammy awards.

She won 6 Grammy awards in 2010.

She has sold over 118 million records.

She has influenced numerous artists such as Adele and Lady Gaga.

She has worked with Pepsi since 2002.

She signed a $50 million deal to endorse Pepsi in 2012.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Kuangyan

    Kuangyan creates IELTS blogs at Magoosh. She is passionate about language education and has a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from New York University. Kuangyan has experience of teaching English both in China and in US. In her free time, she drinks mocha, does yoga, takes photos and travels to different places to explore the exciting world.

2 Responses to What’s the Difference Between Simple Past and Present Perfect Tense?

  1. Eli March 25, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    “She attended singing competition as a child.”
    Shouldn’t it be:
    “She attended a singing competition as a child.”
    “She attended singing competitions as a child.”?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 26, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

      You’re right. Thanks for bringing this typing mistake to my attention. I just fixed the text and the table. 🙂

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