Present perfect simple and experiences

How we look at life experiences using these tenses:

  • I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried (Frank Sinatra, My way) –  Has had these experiences in earlier life but doesn’t say when.
  • I want to know, have you ever seen the rain (Creedence Clearwater Revival) – Singer asks if you have ever experienced this at any point in your life up until now.
  • Oh, I’ve never known a lady like yourself (Cat Stevens, Lady) – singer says that this experience is completely new; never means at no point up until now.

Form: the present perfect is formed by using the present simple of HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE.  The auxiliary (have/has) is usually contracted in informal speech and writing.  Adverbs are usually placed between the auxiliary and the past participle.

Questions using HAVE YOU EVER….? are often used to initiate conversation, as the speaker seeks to discover the partner’s experience.  If the partner answers in the affirmative then the tense will change to the simple past as we are now talking about a specific and definite point in time.  Therefore learners should, in theory, be familiar with the simple past before learning the present perfect and ever/never.

Problems for learners:  In some languages a similiar form (have+past participle) has a different meaning, often equivalent to the past simple.  Therefore, some students may have L1 interference and produce sentences like: I have been to the cinema last night.

Ideas for tasks:

Dynamic experiences board game:  Ss work in small groups with boards and dice provided to each group.  The board has squares with prompts for experiences, all using DYNAMIC meanings of verbs (i.e. eat snails, drink English beer, fly first class, break your arm etc).  The ss take turns to throw the die, move their counter and ask the corresponding question on the board to another student.  That student replies either with yes, I have, or No I’ve never….. if the answer is affirmative, there can be a follow up question and answers using the past simple.

Stative experiences card game: Again ss are in groups of 3 or 4 with a deck of prompt cards face down, for each group.  Each card has prompts for experiences, all using STATIVE verbs (e.g. feel ill on a bus, have a pet dog, be trapped in a lift, see a ghost, cry at a romantic  movie etc.)  Students take a card off the top of the pile and ask the corresponding question to another student.  As in the above game, if the answer is affirmative it can lead to follow up questions using the past simple.