Using the Present Perfect Simple and the Past Simple to talk about life experience. (A2-B1)

Look at this conversation between Patrick and Anna.  Which tense do we use to talk about life experience?  Why is some of this conversation in the Past Simple?


I know you've worked in Asia, but have you ever worked in North America?


Well, I've worked in the US, but I've never been to Canada.


Right.  So when did you work there?


It was a long time ago now, from 2001 to 2007.


And what did you do there?


I worked as an HR manager for a car manufacturer.


Did you enjoy it?


Yes, I did. It was quite stressful at first, but I learned a lot and I had some amazing colleagues.

A helpful tip to develop a conversation with someone is to use Have you ever...? and if the person answers yes, continue with When...? + Past SimpleYou can then ask follow-up questions about the same topic in the Past Simple.

Learning Points

  1. When we ask questions about someone's life experience, we're asking about important events and actions in their life from when they were born until today; the past AND the present.  We use the Present Perfect Simple for this.
  2. We often use the word ever to ask about life experience:
    Have you ever worked in the US? 
  3. We also give Short Answers in the Present Perfect Simple
    Yes, I have. 
    No, I haven't.
  4. We can also use never:
    I've never been to Canada.
  5. We don't use exact time phrases with the Present Perfect Simple, for example last week, yesterday, ten minutes ago.
  6. If someone answers a question with yes, we can use When...? + Past Simple to ask for further information: So, when did you work there?
    This is because When...? in this context is always about a time in the past.  Look at these examples:
    So, when did you work there?
    I worked there from 2001 to 2007.
    I worked there last year.
    I worked there three months ago.
  7. All of the questions and answers in purple are about finished actions in the past.  They happened between 2001 and 2007.  That's why we continue to ask and answer extra questions about the same topic in the Past Simple
    What did you do there? 
    I worked as a HR manager.
    Did you enjoy it?
    Yes, I did.

Interested in learning more?

We don't use ever and never with the Present Perfect Simple to ask about the life of someone who is dead:  

Has Elvis Presley ever performed in Germany?
Elvis Presley has never performed outside North America.

Elvis Presley isn't alive today so we're only talking about the past.  That's why we need to use the Past Simple:

Did Elvis Presley ever perform in Germany?
Elvis Presley never performed outside North America.

Tell me more!