In one of our posts on Facebook, we asked our followers to spot the mistake in this sentence: "I have been to Tokyo last month." Some people were confused when we gave the answer. Here's our follow-up explanation.
Many English learners find it difficult to understand the differences between the present perfect tense (have been) and the past tense (was). This is because both tenses refer to actions that happened in an earlier time.
To recap, the correct answers, using the words in the original sentence, are:
1. I have been to Tokyo.
2. I was in Tokyo last month.
Are you still wondering why? Study the key difference between the past tense and the present perfect tense below.
Olivier talked to Michelle yesterday.
Actions in the past tense happened in a finished period of time.
1. I drank champagne last night.
2. Olivier talked to Michelle yesterday.
3. Laurel lived in Paris in 2015.
You use expresssions of finished time with the past tense. "Last month" is an expression of finished time.
Sometimes, the past tense can be used with expresssions of unfinished time, but in the mind of the speaker, the time is already finished.
1. I drank coffee this morning. (The speaker is talking in the afternoon or in the evening.)
2. Gary went to Japan this year. (The year is almost finished for the speaker.)
3. I didn't go to the library today. (There is no more possibility of going to the library today. The day is practically finished for the speaker.)
Present perfect tense
Actions in the present tense happened in the past, but they continue to have a strong connection to the present.
You use expresssions of unfinished time with the present perfect tense. Sometimes, you don't use a time expresssion at all.
1. Julius he has lived in Barcelona for seven years. (He still lives in Barcelona.)
2. I have been to the gym twice this week. (The week isn't over yet and the speaker might go again.)
3. Justin has read "The Old Man and the Sea." (It is now one of the titles on the list of books he has read in his life.)
Now, let's take a look at the answers again.
1. I have been to Tokyo. This means that Tokyo is now the one of the places he visited in his life.
2. I was in Tokyo last month. This means that last month, the speaker's location was Tokyo. Now, he is not in Tokyo.
We hope this clear things up! If you want to discuss this further, schedule an online English lesson with us. We are happy to help you improve your English skills.