Past Simple, Present Perfect and Past Perfect

Thanks to everyone who took part in our QUESTION to find out what English verb tenses you find most difficult to use.

Almost 60% of you said that the hardest tenses to use were “past simple, present perfect and past perfect”, so this blog post is dedicated to those verb tenses. We will explain when to use each tense and how to differentiate them. If you have any questions, just ask and we will help you!

Ready? Excellent!

Past Simple

The past simple is used to express an action which started and finished at a specific time in the past. For example:
– We played violin for years when I was a child.

We also use it to list a series of actions that happened in the past, for example:
– She woke up, got dressed, caught the bus and went to school.

Present Perfect

The present perfect we spoke about already, do you remember? If not, just read our Present Simple and Present Perfect post.

Just remember that the present perfect is used when an action happened at an unspecified time. For example:
– I have been to Lithuania.

Past Perfect

The past perfect is used when we want to express an action that ocurred before another action in the past. Sounds difficult, right? Don’t worry, it’s easier than it seems. For example:
– I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.
“Loosing my wallet” is an action that happened before “not having any money”.

Also, unlike the present perfect, we can use specific time words with the past perfect, for example:
– He had visited her friends in London once, in 2003, before she moved in with them two years later.

We hope you understand the tenses better now, but if you still have doubts or questions, just let us know!

So, let’s do a quick exercise to practice these verb tenses:

When I (come)  ___a__ home last night, I discovered that Miles (prepare)  ___b__ a delicious meal.
Since I began singing, I (perform) __c____ in five musicals and a TV sitcom. However, I (speak, never even)  __d____ publicly before I came to Hollywood in 1985.
By the time I got to the office, the meeting (begin, already) __e___ without me. My boss (be) __f___ furious with me and I (be) __g___ fired.
When I (put) __h___ the radio on yesterday, I (hear) ___i__ a song that was a bit hit when I was 12. I (hear, not) __j___ the song in years, and it (bring) ___k__ back some great memories.

If you liked this exercise, check out, it’s a great website with information and exercises, so you never stop practicing!


  1. Good afternoon Aba!

    The answers from this exercise are:

    a.- came
    d.- spoke even more
    e.- began already
    f.- was
    g.- was
    h.- put
    i.- heard
    j.- wasn’t heard
    k.- brought

    I don’t know the responses by B and C, I hope you say them to learn more.

    If any of my answers is incorrect I hope to find the right choice.

    Thank you.

    Take care,


    • Hello Belinda!

      These are the answers:

      a. came
      b. had prepared
      c. have performed
      d. Had never even spoken
      e. had already
      f. was
      g. got
      h. put
      i. heard
      j. hadn’t heard
      k. brought

      If you have any questions, please ask! 🙂


        why the answer “c” is have and not had performed?

        • George Talbot


          The answer is “have performed” because we are just talking in general about previous performances but not actually saying that the action of “perform” happened before another action in the past. Look at the following examples to see the difference;

          – I had performed many shows before I got the chance to perform in London. (Here we use “had” to show that this action happened before the other action in the past)
          – I have performed many shows since 2010. (in general)

          I hope this is clear. 🙂

  2. .Difference between past perfect present perfect and future perfect tense? .The present perfect is for actions completed in the present I have answered this question. The future perfect is for action completed in the future I will have answered this question by the time you arrive..

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