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Present Perfect vs. Past Perfect
Have you visited Paris?
Yes, I have visited Paris last year.
This would be a typical answer for an ESL student when studying the English Perfect Tense. Many of them have problems in deciding whether or not they should use specific time. The correct answer here could be any one of these replies. "Yes I have” or "Yes, I have several times" or "Yes I have visited Paris once." When students are introduced to the Past Perfect Tense, they will have a better idea of distinguishing when they should use definite time. Use some ESL grammar games for past perfect tenses in classroom activities to make the concept clearer.
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Examples of Specific Time
If we compare any of the replies above to the following sentence, you will observe that there is a marked difference in how we use a specific time.
- I had visited my relatives once in 2005 before I visited them again in 2008.
Once again if we change this to “I have visited my relatives once in 2005”; we can actually feel the awkwardness of this sentence. The past perfect sentence here can also be expressed in the simple past, so the past perfect is optional. We can also say, “I visited my relatives once in 2005 before I visited them again in 2008.” This is because when the words "before” or "after" are used in a sentence, they actually tell you what happens first. Note, however, that if the past perfect is not referring to an action at a specific time, it is not optional and must be used.
(Simple Past) She never ate snails before she moved to France. (Not correct)
(Past Perfect) She had never eaten snails before she moved to France. (Correct)
The simple past cannot be used here, because we are not referring to an action at a specific time such as “visiting Paris”, but a lack of experience.
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In order to clarify the entire above, try teaching some past vs. perfect tense grammar games. Prepare some sentences where your students fill in the blanks with the correct tense of the word in brackets and complete the sentences. After you have corrected them, let the students play at using these sentences in real life communication. Here are some sentences which students can use to role play.
- What (tell) her?
- I (tell) her that it was the funniest movie that I ever (see).
- In how many plays you (perform)?
- Since I began acting, I (perform) in plays in several Caribbean islands. However, I (speak, never even) publicly before I took the course in theater.
- Why (not, recognize) him?
- I (not, recognize) him because he (lose) so much weight and (grow) a beard.
- I (visit) so many beautiful countries in Europe last year. Some were countries that I (hear, never, even) of.
- (Think) you of returning to visit Spain again?
- No, I (have). I (think) of returning to London, but I (change) my mind.
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- What have you told her? or What did you tell her?
- I told her that it was the funniest movie that I had ever seen.
- In how many plays have you performed?
- Since I began acting, I have performed in plays in several Caribbean islands. However, I had never even spoken publicly before I took the course in theater.
- Why haven’t you recognized him? or Why didn’t you recognize him?
- I did not recognize him because he had lost so much weight and had grown a beard.
- I did not recognize him because he has lost so much weight and has grown a beard.
- I had visited so many beautiful countries in Europe last year that I became excited about traveling.
- I visited so many beautiful countries in Europe last year that I became excited about traveling.
- Some were countries that I had never even heard of.
- Have you thought about returning to Spain?
- No, I haven’t. I had thought about returning to London, but I have changed my mind.
- No, I haven’t. I have thought about returning to London, but I changed my mind.
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Practice makes perfect. Working at more sentences like these, and discovering other ESL grammar games perfect tenses of the different types for students to play can help them to conquer the use of English perfect tenses.