There are no universal principles for choosing between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple. We may learn many classic rules, and yet we are always going to need own resolves in context. An idea as a grammatical time frame can prove very helpful.

The frame may not require a clock, or another exact measurement. Let us use imagination, to grasp the concept. We can imagine a small office. A man is entering it. His name is Jim. He is asking about a woman who works there.

Real-time, we would notice some characteristics and qualities about Jim. Is he in a hurry? Anxious or relaxed, what is the manner he speaks ― fast, swift, steady?

We probably would perceive the time of day and the weather. Is it morning or afternoon? Is it high summer or cold and somber? Would we fancy rain drops on the window sill?

Let us say there is a woman in the office; she is middle-aged, stately and sublime. Her speech is clear and has warmth of tone. Her name is Jin.

We could find at least five words about Jim and Jin in a dictionary.

Jim is looking for Jill (sound-alike and look-alike names really happen). Jin could say,

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;
1a. Jill has just left.

■→CHAPTER 4 of the grammar journey has a picture for the Simple and the Perfect with cognitive mapping values {ON} and {TO}.

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;
{ON a PAST ground in time};

1a. Jill has just left;
{TO the PRESENT ground in time};

Grammatical time frames can work in vast expanses as well. We may think about a famous American park, Yellowstone.
2. Have you ever been in Yellowstone?
2a. Did you go to Yellowstone?

The time frame in example 2 is open. It embraces time to the PRESENT. The question is if we have visited the park ever in our lives.

We could imagine a 50-year-old man or woman, asked if he or she has ever been in Yellowstone. The time frame would embrace 50 years of a human life (!)

In example 2a, the time frame is closed on a reference to the PAST. The PAST does not have to be distant, or — whatsoever — irrelevant. We close the frame when we have the cognitive ground.

A cognitive ground is the how, where, or when, for what we tell. Human cognitive grounds are also called notional grounds. A notion may be a thought or a word. A cognitive or notional ground is not any surface actually to stand on, but we might take stands too ― express views and opinions ― using our cognitive or notional grounds.

In conversations, people usually seek a cognitive ground in common. This is how we could imagine our talk before 2a:
2b. Have you met your Yellowstone friend since?
2c. He has moved to Treasure ― yes.
2d. Did you go to the park?

Yellowstone and Treasure are neighboring American counties, but it is not really geography or landscape we rely on, for our cognitive grounds and grammatical time frames. Let us think why most people would close the time frame for example 2d.


Theories happen, that American English “is getting rid of” the Perfect Aspect, and people use it much less in American than in British. Let us think about the cognitive ground and the time frame together.

Could we imagine a brother waiting to take his sister to a meeting?

3. Where have you been?
3a. I’ve been to the movies.
{TO the PRESENT}, Present Perfect

3b. Did you enjoy it?
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple

The sister might say, especially if she does not want to answer too many questions,
3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple

She could be preparing a surprise birthday party for her brother, and lying about the cinema. The brother does not know it. Still, they would progress into the same closed time frame: they know they are speaking about the same time span.
3b. Did you enjoy it?
3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.
{ON the same, PAST ground}, Past Simple

We do not always need a clock or watch, big or small, to have a cognitive ground.
Let us imagine we are on a countryside vacation. We are staying at a motel. For a few days, we have our breakfast at the motel, before we go hiking.

We may also know U.S. Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway, or the Main Street of America. Part the original road is now a National Scenic Byway. ■→Will Rogers was an American media personality of the 1920s and 1930s, famous for his appealing sense of humor.

4. Have you had breakfast?
We are at the motel;
time for breakfast is an open frame,
and our variables are {TO, the PRESENT}.

4a. Did you have breakfast?
We are out in the open;
time for breakfast is a closed frame,
and our variables are {ON the PAST}.

Obviously, the time is good to reckon on time, too.
4. Have you had breakfast?
(It is morning, still;
the time frame is open.)

4. Did you have breakfast?
(It is afternoon;
the time frame is closed.)

Let us return to our office conversation. An American really might say in the context,
2. Jill just left.
(This is what our Jin tells Jim.)

The word “just” effectively marks the recency. We are not missing out on any grammar or information, if we compare 1a:
1a. Jill has just left.

However, asking questions in Perfect tenses ― as “Have you ever been in Yellowstone?” ― is natural in American. It is not true that American is the kind of English to delete the Perfect Aspect.

Feel welcome to some more reasoning on the time frame: ■→6.1. LINGUISTIC GRAVITATION

■→This text is also available in Polish.


The world may never have seen her original handwriting, if her skill was taken for supernatural. Feel welcome to Poems by Emily Dickinson prepared for print by Teresa Pelka: thematic stanzas, notes on the Greek and Latin inspiration, the correlative with Webster 1828, and the Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity.
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