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Present Perfect

This tense form promises perfection. Isn't that nice? Here it is perfection in the sense of completion or fulfilment. And there is the word "present" in it. So together that sounds like "perfection right now". Sounds like everybody's dream.

Simple Form

When it comes to tenses, "simple" usually means that the idea of the sentence is not considered as a running process, but rather as a state or a fact. So either we are talking about ideas which cannot be seen as a process at all, or they are not seen as a process at the moment. This is also true for simple present perfect. It it used for actions that happened at some earlier time, but are somehow related to the present. Have a look at this table for details.

The time of the action is unknown

The past event itself, but not its time, is in the focus. (see example 1)

The action has an effect on the present

The event is past, but it is relevant for the present topic you speak about. (see example 2)

A state has remained unchanged for some time

You speak about a state which existed in the past and still exists today. (there is no action - see example 3)

  1. Have you ever visited Dresden?
  2. This visit - if there was one - was at an unspecific point of time between somewhere in the past and now.

  3. We can go now, I have finished my work.
  4. It is not important when I finished my work (probably right now, but perhaps earlier already). However, the fact that I finished my work has the effect that we can go now.

  5. The weather has been like this since we arrived.
  6. The weather started being like this in the past and it is still the same. On the first sight this looks like a case for present perfect progressive, but here we have a state, not an action, and this requires simple form.

Simple Present Perfect or Simple Past?

This is another pitfall for the English learner. All the rules you learn can give you guidelines, but what you really need is a feeling for the language which only comes with exercise.
And if you get caught with a mistake, just say you are an American. This always excuses a lot, including the use of tenses.

Case 1: Are you now or have you ever been...

You are discussing holiday plans with a friend. You don't know where to go, but you know that you will. On the table there are a map of the world and your latest bank statement. "Have you ever been to South Africa," you ask and forget the bank statement for a moment. "Yes, I was there last year"
is what your friend answers and you need a new idea.
"What about Timbuktu?" you ask, "Have you ever been there?" Frankly, you don't even know where this is, but somehow this word has been ringing in your ear all day long. "Sure. I was there right after I finished school."
O.K., time for something really cool and unusual. "Have you ever been to..." your finger hovers almost right above your hometown, "...Struppen?" -- Your friend is unable to speak for a moment and then he says, "What's that? No, I have never been there." Strike! "Let's go to Struppen, then," you say and smile at your bank statement. It seems to smile back at you.

The yellow sentences refer to the complete period of time between some point in the past to the present. This is used in the question and the negative answer. Here you need present perfect.
The blue sentences, however, refer to one moment in this period of time (even if this "moment" is as long as two weeks). They also say that the action is over now, which asks for past tense.
If you need a rule of thumb for the beginning: Whenever the words 'ever' / 'never' or 'yet> / 'not yet' are in the sentence, you'd better use present perfect. If you can find 'already', past tense is a better idea. And as always: There are exceptions...

Case 2: Ready to fight

You hear the crowd before you can see them. Then you enter the school gym looking down at your feet and at your hands in those big boxing gloves. "Are you sure you want to fight?" your friend asks you from behind. "Can you really box?" You can hear that he does not think so. "Yes," you answer, "the library had six books on boxing and I have read them all." Your friend is still not satisfied. "But have you ever boxed against anybody? A sparring partner? Or at least a punching-bag?"
"No, " you answer, "but I have learned all the strategies of the best boxers. They were in the books." Then you step into the ring. You hear all the school cheer and applaud, but this is not for you. It is for this huge guy from one of the older classes who is entering the ring on the other side. Then you hear the bell and step forward. "I should have had some practical training," is your last thought before your lights go out...

In this example you use present perfect to point out the result of something you did in the past. (Something stupid in this case.) The action itself (reading the books) is in the past, but the experience from this past action is something you have now. And you will have some nice new experience as soon as you wake up.